The British and Irish Lions had to withstand a late flourish from the Free State Cheetahs before escaping with a 26-24 victory at Vodacom Park, to keep their unbeaten record on tour intact.
The Lions were outscored three tries to two in their third tour game at Bloemfontein but had Welsh fly half James Hook to thank for their nail-biting victory. The Ospreys fly-half converted both tries scored by Keith Earls and Stephen Ferris and added four penalties for a personal haul of 16 points.
While Hook's boot was unerring, the Cheetahs saw Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Louis Strydom miss opportunities which could have claimed the home side a famous win.
The tourists got off to a flying start in Bloemfontein, hitting 20 points inside 20 minutes, but thereafter the home side raised their game and took the game to Paul O'Connell's side.
Wales wing Leigh Halfpenny was among first-time starters along with Hook and Irish centre Luke Fitzgerald. But it was backrower Ferris who showed his speed from the breakdown to race away for a converted try after Hook had got the Lions on the move with an easy penalty.
Hook was at the centre of the action again when his delightful chip was caught by Earls who eluded two tacklers to leave the Cheetahs' defence for dead. Hook added the extras for a commanding 17-0 advantage.
A second Hook penalty extended the lead to 20-0 despite Ferris being in the sin bin. A man down in the scrum, the Lions found themselves under pressure and eventually the Cheetahs worked clear dangerous winger Danwel Demas who finished with aplomb. Potgieter converted and suddenly the match looked a totally different proposition for the Lions.
The Cheetahs continued to make their one-man advantage tell when du Preez powered over for a try which Potgieter improved.
Hook's third successful penalty gave the Lions a 14-23 halftime lead but it was anything but comfortable.
Potgieter cut the gap to six points with a 45-metre penalty and even though the Lions struggled to find any momentum, Hook landed his sixth successful kick with a penalty on 50mins to put the tourists nine points clear.
Strydom landed a penalty before the Cheetahs put a cat among the pigeons when Corne Uys raced the length of the field after snapping up a Shane Williams pass for a converted try which brought the home side within two points of the Lions.
The Lions were clinging on when the Cheetahs saw a long range drop goal sail inches wide but with the final hooter having already gone, the home side saw their chance of glory blown away when they lost possession trying to set up a final drop at goal.
Wales assistant coach Robin McBryde is predicting a tough battle against England on Sunday despite the fact they may not be considered to be at full strength. Players will be out to impress Eddie Jones which makes England a dangerous proposition, he says.
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