A late penalty from James Hook saw The British & Irish Lions nick a 26-23 win over Western Province at a blustery Newlands on Saturday.

The tourists had found themselves 9-6 down after a scrappy opening quarter in which both sides struggled to come to terms with the inclement weather conditions, but The Lions took command of the game with two tries in the space of seven first-half minutes from their in-form wingers, Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye.

The excellent goal-kicking of Willem de Waal kept Western Province in touch after the interval but The Lions looked poised to pull clear once more when Martyn Williams touched down in the 56th minute.

The Western Province kept coming, though, and Joe Pietersen leveled the game at 23 points apiece when he slid over shortly after the hour mark.

The final quarter swayed one way and then the other before Hook clinched victory for The Lions with a sublime 45-metre penalty with three minutes to play.

The players' knew the importance of this fixture, it being The Lions' penultimate game before their first meeting with The Springboks, in Durban in seven days' time. It was, as Martyn Williams had quite rightly described it earlier in the week, as the 'final trial match'. Big performances were required, so it must have been with no small amount of disappointment that The Lions ran out onto the pitch for their warm-up at Newlands and were greeted by a cold, swirling wind and biting rain.

These were not conditions that were likely to lend themselves to running rugby.

Hardly surprising, then, that the early exchanges were characterised by a high balls and handling errors. It was dreadful stuff, truth be told.

However, as the conditions improved, so did the standard of play - dramatically.

Western Province fly-half de Waal opened the scoring with a penalty only to see Jones reply with two of his own to nudge the Lions ahead.

The home side were quite enjoying the battle, though, and their growing confidence was personified by de Waal, who restored parity with a majestic 35-metre drop goal.

Their belief that the upset was on only further strengthened by that score, The Western Province then decided to kick for the line rather than go for goal when awarded a second penalty, this time inside The Lions 22.

A succession of brave drives for the line followed, but seeing that the Lions defence, which has been a real plus point on the Tour so far, was not for the breaching, they settled for another drop goal, through their entertainingly erratic full-back, Pietersen.

The home fans had come to life by this point, but their enthusiasm was quickly dampened - and not by the rainfall but by two fine Lions tries.

Unsurprisingly, Tommy Bowe, the player of the Tour thus far, played a key role in both.

He scored the first, taking his personal try tally to four in three appearances. It was a score which had its origins in a superb charge forward from Andy Powell and a lovely show of hands from Martyn Williams.

Harry Ellis, Stephen Jones and Rob Kearney kept the momentum of a fine move going with some neat passing before Bowe spun his way past one tackler and rolled himself over another to score in the right corner.

Moments later, the Monaghan native turned creator. Coming on to a pass from Jones in midfield like a steam train, he stepped beautifully inside Peter Grant, skipped past another man and then bounced off Pietersen before popping a superb out wide to the waiting Monye, who finished clinically in the corner.

Jones having converted the second of those tries, The Lions had gone from three points down to nine points up.

However, de Waal slotted over another penalty with the last kick of the half, meaning the visitors' lead was just 18-12 at the interval.

Another de Waal penalty seven minutes after the restart drew Western Province to within one score but The Lions response to the mounting pressure was again impressive and ruthless, with Martyn Williams darting his way over in the corner after a short but sustained spell of pressure from the forwards.

De Waal quickly responded with a penalty, though, to keep Western Province in touch and then Pietersen, a man clearly of the opinion that errors are a natural byproduct of having a go, decided to leave an indelible mark on the game, sliding over in the left corner to bring an end to a terrific spell of possession which he himself had effectively sparked with his initial release of Gio Aplon down the right flank courtesy of the deftest of flicks.

Van Waal, somewhat surprisingly, failed to add the extras, meaning the scores were tied once more. It was anyone's game.

The Lions tried to reclaim the initiative and Bowe threatened a game-winning try when given a bit of time and space on the right wing but the Ulsterman was smothered up by blue-and-white hooped jerseys.

Hook then saw a long-range penalty attempt fall short before Andy Powell then came close to earning himself a yellow card with a borderline high tackle on Duane Vermeulen. But the rampaging Welsh number eight escaped with nothing more than a warning.

At the other end, Monye put his side under unnecessary pressure by making a mess of an attempted quick line-out deep inside his 22. It was all happening.

However, when awarded a scrum five metres inside Western Province territory on their own feed, The Lions piled on the pressure, thus resulting in Hook being presented with an opportunity to win the game.

The Welshman's nerve held superbly and he defied the wind to send the ball spinning over the bar.

Moments later, Hook gratefully booted the ball straight into touch, after Pietersen had inexplicably tried a grubber down the line, to bring an end to The Lions' toughest test to date in South Africa.

Western Province: Joe Pietersen; Tonderai Chavhanga, Morgan Newman, Peter Grant, Gcobani Bobo; Willem De Waal, Dewaldt Duvenage; Wicus Blaauw, Tiaan Liebenberg, Brok Harris; Martin Muller, Anton Van Zyl; Pieter Louw, Duane Vermeulen, Luke Watson (capt).

Replacements: Hanyani Shimange, JD Moller, De Kock Steenkamp, Zandre Jordaan, Conrad Hoffmann, JJ Engelbrecht, Gio Aplon.

British & Irish Lions: Rob Kearney; Tommy Bowe, Keith Earls, Riki Flutey, Ugo Monye; Stephen Jones, Harry Ellis; Andrew Sheridan, Matthew Rees, Phil Vickery (capt); Donncha O'Callaghan, Nathan Hines; Joe Worsley, Martyn Williams, Andy Powell.

Replacements: Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Simon Shaw, Tom Croft, Mike Blair, James Hook, Gordon D'Arcy.