SHARKS GO DOWN FIGHTING
It was a brave effort from The Cell C Sharks at the death of an exciting Vodacom Super Rugby first round clash, but ultimately the Lions clung on for a 26-19 victory at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.
We were dealt a late blow as Keegan Daniel, named to play at eighthman, was unwell and ruled out of the game, but was ably replaced by Dan du Preez who was originally playing off the bench.
The Lions came into this game off the back of a 17 match winning streak against South African opposition and initially appeared to be in danger of having their record coming to an end after conceding the first try of the game to the Cell C Sharks during the early period when they looked a bit out of sorts. But as the first half progressed so the home side found their way and bravely held out under immense pressure as the game wound down.
It was something of a dream start for the visiting Cell C Sharks who poached a couple of Lions’ lineouts, put the home side under pressure, forced a penalty which was sent to the touchline for the attacking lineout before flyhalf Robert du Preez took the ball at pace to score under the posts, then convert before 10 minutes of play had elapsed.
The game was being played at pace by the Cell C Sharks who were dictating the the game, with the Lions unaccustomed to being restricted to defenders rather than attackers.
But the home had an ace up their sleeves in the form of a powerful scrum which put us under pressure and from where they were able to launch a try-scoring attack, Lionel Mapoe getting over for his team’s first try, converted by Jantjies to even matters as the game approached the end of the first quarter.
Not five minutes later, turnover ball gave the Lions another opportunity to attack and they strung the phases together before scoring out wide to take the lead for the first time in the game. The conversion took the home side into a seven point lead.
There was no doubting the competitive nature of the game and the Lions had found their groove impressively. However, there was a good fightback from the Cell C Sharks with some fantastic interplay to take the ball to the Lions 22 before winning a penalty. Sadly, Dan du Preez left the field with a suspected shoulder injury during that exciting period just before half-time when we were looking to hit back on the scoreboard.
Sadly, our final opportunity before the break could not be completed as the Lions dominated the scrum to earn another penalty to avert danger and head off to the changerooms leading 14-7.
But the game isn’t only about scrumming and the Cell C Sharks came out in the second half breathing fire and were rewarded for an impressively speedy attack with Sbu Nkosi managing to thrust his arm over in the corner just as he was about to be bundled into touch. The conversion from out wide sadly struck the upright, but we were back in the game.
Beast Mtawarira made a welcome return and immediately made his immense presence felt, monstering his opposition in the scrum and earning a penalty for a real boost to our scrum’s confidence.
But the Lions weren’t overly fazed when a good break led to a second try for Mapoe, the successful conversion pushing his team into a nine point lead.
Moments later, the Lions messed up the kick-off receipt, conceded the scrum and from there, the try was on, Mapimpi scoring easily in the far corner. Du Preez’s impressive conversion took it back to a two point game with 25 minutes remaining.
It was all happening with one side striking, then the other. It took a TMO decision to confirm the Lions’ fourth try, Kwagga Smith taking a quick tap penalty from close and managing to score. Jantjies missed for the first time and the lead was a seven points the difference.
The Lions’ flyhalf missed two further penalty attempts which would have pushed his side beyond one score and give them some breathing space.
The closing minutes of the game were intriguing as firstly Curwin Bosch led an exciting attack from his 22 that took him 50m upfield with an elusive run before the Lions conceded a penalty near their tryline. The driving maul was held up for a scrum, we won a scrum penalty and the driving maul from the ensuing lineout was once more held up.
The Lions wound down the clock with a series
of pick and drives but with 5 seconds remaining, we won a penalty on the ground and kicked to the touchline for one last effort. He ball was quickly recycled to the backline this time but the Lions’ defence stood firm one last time to hold out for the win.
Cell C Sharks captain Ruan Botha admitted afterwards that the set-piece made life tough.
“Scrums disappointed us in the game, we lost ball in contact and we couldn’t finish off opportunities,” he said of the areas he felt the team will be working on. “Losing the scrums proves that you can’t launch attacks and that puts you under pressure. We battled to build momentum. The lineouts were good at least.”
Tries: Smith, Mapoe 2, Dyantyi
Cons: Jantjies 3
Tries: R Du Preez, Nkosi, Mapimpi
Cons: R Du Preez 2
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Tendai Mtawarira, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Kobus van Wyk
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Marius Jonker