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Page last updated at 06:11 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 07:11 UK

Guscott's drop for glory

Jeremy Guscott
Jeremy Guscott kicks the Lions to glory in Durban in 1997

Durban's King's Park, or the ABSA Stadium as it is now known, holds happy memories for the British and Irish Lions as they return on Saturday to the venue where they clinched the 1997 series against South Africa.

On that occasion, the second Test of the series, the Lions conceded three tries and were forced to defend for most of the game.

But crucially, South Africa missed six kicks at goal, while Neil Jenkins kicked five penalties to keep the Lions level at 15-15 approaching the last five minutes.

It was then that flanker Neil Back, on as a replacement for Richard Hill, played a vital hand in turning the series the Lions' way, stealing the ball back at a ruck after the tourists had lost it at the breakdown.

From there hooker Keith Wood hacked it upfield, the Lions won a line-out via Irish lock Jeremy Davidson just inside the Boks 22, and Scottish fly-half Gregor Townsend darted into space but was held up short.

Scrum-half Matt Dawson retrieved it from the ruck and sent a pass out to Jeremy Guscott, stationed at stand-off, who with four minutes left coolly dropped the goal right-footed from 15m out that won the Lions the series.

Jeremy Guscott

Former Bath, England and Lions centre

"My overriding feeling is still 'what if I had missed?'

It's funny, I can remember the try I scored for the Lions in the second Test in Australia in 1989 second by second, but I don't remember much about the drop-goal in '97.

It is used in some of the advertising for this current Lions tour but every time I see it, I can't remember myself being there and slotting it over.

It was really weird at the time, the strangest feeling. I don't like thinking about it really.

After the final whistle, even though I was jumping up and down and giving it the 2-0 victory sign, back in the dressing room all I could think about was 'what if I had missed?'

Jeremy Guscott and Ian McGeechan
Guscott celebrates his series-winning drop goal with coach Ian McGeechan

People remember Jonny Wilkinson's drop-goal that won England the World Cup in 2003 and it was as if those guys knew exactly what they had to do in the build-up to that. Everyone had a role to play, they had practised it so many times.

But back in 97, even though it was the first Lions tour of the professional era, no-one said 'let's set up the drop-goal'. I scored a couple of drop-goals in my England career - one against Scotland in the early 1990s and one against Wales - but it wasn't planned with the Lions.

If I had had an overlap outside me, the ball would have gone. But I always remember that Austin Healey was outside me so there was no way he was going to get the ball!

Even most of the rest of the guys in the squad would have preferred that I dropped the goal rather than Austin - he would have been unbearable!

I got plenty of stick as it was. The gist of it seemed to be 'of all people, it had to be you didn't it?' But the Lions is all about the team, not the individual.

The beauty about 97 was that we weren't given a hope. I always remember Louis Luyt (the president of South Africa Rugby Union at the time) almost showing us the door on the other side of the room at a function when we arrived. He thought we were going to be thumped 3-0.

It just happened to be me. It was my time, my moment, one of the highlights of my career, for sure

It was great to play the kind of rugby we did on that tour, but even then there were highs and lows. We lost to Northern Transvaal two weeks before the first Test but then John Bentley scored that amazing try in the next game against Gauteng Lions and the momentum was back with us.

We thoroughly outplayed the Springboks in the first Test in Cape Town, and then the guys went up to the Free State and turned in one of the best ever games by a Lions team [they won 52-30].

In fairness I didn't have a big role in the Tests. I enjoyed the provincial games and felt my performances were good enough to get me selection, but I never took it for granted, with players of the quality of Allan Bateman and Will Greenwood around.

On today's shorter tours, with Scott Gibbs and Bateman playing together for Wales, they would have probably been the combination the coaches looked at, but Allan got injured at a bad time and I ended up playing with Gibbsy in the Tests.

The South Africans, given their macho nature, probably thought it would be easy to run through Jerry Guscott, so why bother?

They thought 'let's smack through Scott Gibbs instead. He seems to be the keystone of their defence so if we knock him over they will crumble'.


We knew that having lost unexpectedly, South Africa would come out scrapping in the second Test, and that knowing we were close to winning the series, we naturally tightened up. They dominated in terms of tries - 3-0 - but Neil Jenkins kept us in the game with his unbelievable kicking.

Gregor [Townsend] would have dropped the goal if he had been there. 'Jenks' [Neil Jenkins] would have done it if he had been there.

It just happened to be me. It was my time, my moment, one of the highlights of my career, for sure.

The Lions are part of my best moments in rugby and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of what they represent - being put in a very uncomfortable position and asked to do your best against the odds.

All good players rise to that challenge and come out of it a better rugby player and a better person."

Jeremy Guscott was talking to BBC Sport's Bryn Palmer

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see also
Jeremy Guscott column
20 Apr 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions Watch
06 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions legends receive medals
04 Dec 04 |  Rugby Union
The word on Geech
14 May 08 |  Rugby Union
History of the Lions: South Africa 1997
18 May 05 |  Internationals
Guscott puts the boot in
18 Jun 09 |  Lions Down Under

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