Lions edge Sharks in Jo'burg thriller
The Golden Lions continued their impressive build-up to the Super Rugby promotion-relegation series.
The Golden Lions continued their impressive build-up to the Super Rugby promotion-relegation series with a 33-29 win over the Sharks in Johannesburg on Friday.
Having had to be content with Vodacom Cup level competition, the Lions had hoped for a a tougher hit-out.
And they certainly got that from a Sharks team featuring a number of Springboks - Odwa Ndungane, Andrew James, Charl McLeod, Jean Deysel and Keegan Daniel.
The Lions often got done at the breakdown, with the Sharks getting greater numbers and winning several turnovers.
However, the Lions' scrum was their most destructive weapon, winning them numerous penalties and ultimately the game, with their mauls almost just as effective.
It was a game of ebb-and-flow, but in the end the Lions' forwards gave them the edge over a Sharks team with not only those Boks, but several other Super Rugby players in the starting XV.
A 10-minute blitzkrieg, in which the Sharks scored three tries, turned the game on its head - two of those tries came while the Sharks were down a man.
It saw the visitors take a 19-7 lead into the half-time break, before the Lions came back strongly in the second half to outscore the Sharks 26-7 in the second 40.
There will also be big concern for Sharks over injuries to Jandre Marais (who was injured in one of those destructive scrums by the Lions), flyhalf Butch James and prop Wiehahn Herbst, another victim of the Lions' powerful set pieces.
In the end the Lions were good value for their win, their resilience and energetic attacks making up for several lapses in concentration.
It required a come-from-behind effort, with veteran prop CJ van der Linde - one of two Boks in the Lions team - scoring a last-ditch try to secure victory.
The Sharks were dealt an early blow when their skipper Keegan Daniel was shown a yellow card in the 12th minute for his team's persistent infringing on their try-line.
The Lions made use of their numerical advantage in the scrum straight away, as referee Lourens van der Merwe awarded the Lions a penalty try for further negative play by the Sharks shortly after, handing the hosts the early advantage.
But the Sharks responded well and dotted down four minutes later, when Louis Ludik spotted a gap in the Lions defence, whipped the ball through the hands, and sent Riaan Viljoen crashing over.
With their tails up, the Sharks kept up the pressure and five minutes later, the Durban outfit took the lead through a Dale Chadwick try, with veteran flyhalf Andrew James knocking over his second conversion of the match.
The Lions had no response and in the 28th minute, the Sharks scored their third try through debutant Heimar Williams, after James showed composure to draw two defenders before finding Williams, who went over for the five-pointer.
Following a disappointing opening period, the Lions came out into the second half with real intent, as Warwick Tecklenburg was denied a try by the TMO, who ruled that he failed to ground the ball over the line.
But two minutes later, the Lions crashed over the line, after a superb driving maul from a line-out close to the Sharks line allowed Derick Minnie to close the gap, while Marnitz Boshoff added the conversion.
The Lions had the momentum in their favour and locked their opponents out of the game by scoring their third try in the 57th minute through Ruan Combrinck, who rounded-off a flowing backline movement for the Johannesburg side.
With the scores level following Combrinck's score, the Sharks hit back straight away, sending Jandre Marais over for a try less than three minutes later, as the visitors re-gained the lead.
The Lions responded with their fourth try 10 minutes later, as Hendrik Roodt muscled his way over the line, which was confirmed by the TMO, before Marnitz Boshoff successfully converted to draw level once more at 26-26.
Sharks replacement flyhalf Fred Zeilinga knocked over his side's first penalty of the match three minutes later, handing the lead back to the coastal outfit.
But with two minutes left on the clock, the Lions, who had camped out on the Sharks try-line for five minutes, found a hole in the Sharks defence, as Van der Linde trotted over and scored under the posts to all but wrap up the win.
Man of the match: Jean Deysel was strong with ball in hand and was well-supported by Kyle Cooper. Odwa Ndungane showed his experience, especially on defence. Louis Ludik made a mockery of the Lions' defence and turned the game on its head in the first half. Willie Britz, Derick Minnie and Warwick Tecklenburg were all energetic and persistent, but often also too individualistic. However, this award goes to the Lions scrum - they not only demolished the Sharks set piece at will, but it is what kept them in the game when the Durban outfit looked like running away with the game.
Moment of the match: There were some great tries - especially those three first-half scores set up by the brilliance of Louis Ludik. However, the first indication of the destructive scrumming power of the Lions came in the 14th minute - a penalty try when the Sharks' pack was marched back a rate by the Lions. That gets our award.
Villain of the match: It was not so much nasty as petulant. But Sharks captain Keegan Daniel gets this one for his puerile attempts to get a second card after he was already yellow carded for a professional foul in the 12th minute. His run of penalties was a liability to his team, as he has been all season.
For the Golden Lions:
Tries: Penalty try, Minnie, Combrinck, Roodt, Van der Linde
Cons: Boshoff 4
For the Sharks:
Tries: Viljoen, Chadwick, Williams, Marais
Cons: James 2, Zeilinga
Yellow card: Keegan Daniel (Sharks, 12 - professional foul, killing the ball)
Golden Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Gavin Annandale, 19 Lambert Groenewald, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Dylan des Fountain, 22 Deon van Rensburg.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Sean Robinson, 10 Andrew James, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Jandre Marais, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Brynard Stander, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Tyler Fisher.
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe
Assistant referees: Tiaan Jonker, Sieg van Staden
TMO: Willie Roos