Rustenburg - The British and Irish Lions ran in three late tries to edge the Royal XV 37-25 in their South African tour opener Saturday.
Played in front of little more than 12,000 spectators in this dusty North West town, the visitors were made to fight all the way against a side that has no regular Super 14 players in their midst.
The Lions, who battled with their handling and displayed little intensity, trailed 25-13 with quarter of an hour remaining, but hit back at the end after the Royal side were out on their feet after making 68 tackles to the Lions' 37.
Lions flyhalf Ronan O'Gara opened the scoring after eight minutes with a close-range penalty, but the visitors would not score again until late in the first half.
After surviving an initial onslaught by the men from the northern hemisphere, the Royal XV dominated the first 40 minutes.
Naas Olivier levelled the scores with a penalty after 10 minutes and by the half-hour mark the hosts were 18-3 to the good.
Led by scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius, who caused all sorts of problems around the fringes of the rucks, scrums and mauls, the Royal XV simply had too much class for the Lions.
Keith Earls, the young centre from Ireland, had a debut in the famous red jersey he'd certainly like to forget.
His handling - he knocked the ball on on four occasions in the opening quarter - put his team under plenty pressure throughout the half, but he was not the only man who would have failed to impress coach Ian McGeechan.
Mike Blair's service from behind the pack was slow and he, too, knocked the ball on on a number of occasions, while the much-vaunted Andrew Sheridan at loosehead prop was shown up in the scrums by Bees Roux.
On the 20 minute mark, Royal XV captain Wilhelm Koch took an excellent pass from Olivier to crash over for his team's first try and, after a further three-pointer by Olivier, hooker Rayno Barnes powered his way through a clutch of players after the hosts had again won good lineout ball.
The visitors did improve in the latter stages of the first period, but poor-option taking by O'Gara - his decision to put through a grubber kick from five metres from the line - and the Lions' inability to assert themselves at scrum-time cost them dearly.
But two minutes from the interval, winger Tommy Bowe ran a good angle to collect a pass from O'Gara, and go over under the posts.
O'Gara then converted a second penalty almost immediately after the resumption to reduce his team's deficit by five points, but while the Lions won the territorial game in the second half, and improved their first-half effort 10-fold, excellent defence by the hosts, and more handling errors by the Lions, prevented the tourists from crossing the whitewash.
And they were made to pay for their disappointing showing when Royal prop Bees Roux picked up at the base of a ruck and powered his way over the line for a converted try. It took the combined side into a 25-13 lead with 15 minutes to go.
The Lions though hit back at the end with converted tries by Lee Byrne, Alun-Wyn Jones and O'Gara, while the flyhalf also added a third penalty to ensure a hard-fought victory.
Royal XV: Tries - Wilhelm Koch. Rayno Barnes, Bees Roux. Conversions - Naas Olivier, Riaan Viljoen. Penalties - Olivier (2)
Lions: Tries - Tommy Bowe, Lee Byrne, Alun-Wyn Jones, Ronan O'Gara. Conversions - Ronan O'Gara (4). Penalties - O'Gara (3)
Royal XV: Russell Jeacocks (Platinum Leopards); Egon Seconds (Griqualand West), Deon van Rensburg (Leopards), Hanno Coetzee (Griquas), Bjorn Basson (Griquas); Naas Olivier (Griquas), Sarel Pretorius (Griquas); Jonathan Mokoena (Griquas), Devon Raubenheimer (Griquas), Wilhelm Koch (Leopards, capt); Jacques Lombard (Griquas), Rudi Mathee (Leopards); Bees Roux (Griquas), Rayno Barnes (Griquas), Albertus Buckle (Griquas)
Replacements used: Stef Roberts (Griquas), Rynard Landman (Leopards), Jacques Coetzee (Mpumalanga Pumas), Riaan Viljoen (Griquas)
Replacements not used: Pellow van der Westhuizen (Leopards), RW Kember (Leopards), Jovan Bowles (Leopards)
Lions: Lee Byrne (WAL); Tommy Bowe (IRL), Keith Earls (IRL), Jamie Roberts (WAL), Shane Williams (WAL); Ronan O'Gara (IRL), Mike Blair (SCO); David Wallace (IRL), Martyn Williams (WAL), Joe Worsley (ENG); Paul O'Connell (IRL, capt), Simon Shaw (ENG); Adam Jones (WAL), Matthew Rees (WAL), Andrew Sheridan (ENG)
Replacements used: Lee Mears (ENG), Phil Vickery (ENG), Alun-Wyn Jones (WAL), Jamie Heaslip (IRL), Mike Phillips (WAL), Stephen Jones (WAL), Riki Flutey (ENG)