Victory in defeat for Lions
The Southern Kings beat the Lions 23-18 at Ellis Park on Saturday, but it was the home team that celebrated 'victory'.
Despite the five-point defeat, the Lions reclaimed their Super Rugby status from the Kings – a team that replaced them in the competition in controversial circumstances.
Their return to Super Rugby comes on aggregate score – their seven-point (26-19) win last week giving them a 44-42 victory in the two-match series, with both teams having earned five log points.
Emotions ran high at the packed Ellis Park and while it was not the sell-out crowd predicted, well over 50,000 packed the stadium.
And the crowd made no secret of who they wanted to triumph, especially after a controversial yellow card reduced the Lions to 14 men late in the game.
It was a game of brutal intensity – especially from the Kings, who managed to not only disrupt the Lions' normally smooth pattern, but also were tactically more astute.
The Lions' accuracy remained a major issue throughout the game, along with a a lack of discipline in the early stages – with a string of penalties costing the home team dearly.
It took the home team all of 20 minutes before they settled down enough to get hold of some possession – even though their error count remained unacceptably high.
However, after a first quarter dominated by the Kings, the Lions looked like they were starting to control proceedings.
As was the case in last week's match in Port Elizabeth, the Lions' scrum started to dominate after the first quarter – a dominance which became more prominent after the break.
The home team were still being let down by their own mistakes, especially when they were deep on attack in the Kings territory. Not that the Kings were angels, the visitors' penalty count more than double that of the Lions and the Kings lucky not to have had one of their players sent to the sin bin.
And when the Lions eventually returned to the approach which have been so successful for them this year – attacking from inside their own territory – they appeared destined for a deserved win.
But there was a late twist, midfielder Nicolaas Hanekom yellow carded for a dangerous tackle – allowing the Kings to score two converted tries and come within three points of retaining their Super Rugby status.
The Kings, as was the case last week, enjoyed the early ascendancy – with the Lions being pinned inside their own half. The visitors had more than 80 percent of the territorial advantage in that period.
The reward came in the 10th minute, when Lions flank Derick Minnie was penalised after being dragged over the top of a ruck by a Kings player and Scott van Breda kicking the points for a 3-0 lead.
Two minutes later the Lions were penalised for advancing ahead of the kicker and Van Breda, this time from just on 40 metres out, added three more – 6-0.
Another breakdown penalty towards the end of the first quarter gave Van Breda his third shot at goal, but this time he was wide of the mark with an angled kick.
It was another three minutes before the Lions had their first scoring opportunity – a breakdown/tackle penalty giving Elton Jantjies a shot at goal. However, the flyhalf was also wide of the mark.
On the half-hour mark the Kings – who were now on the wrong end of the referee's whistle – were penalised for collapsing a maul. Jantjies, this time from about 45 metres on the angle, kicked his team's first points – 3-6.
The penalty count continued to mount against the visitors and eventually the referee issued a warning about repeated infringements as another maul was collapsed.
And the Lions got their reward five minutes from the break – with flank Derick Minnie getting the five-pointer after another maul was collapsed illegally and the Lions played he advantage. Jantjies' kick was again wide – but the home team had the lead, 8-6.
Almost from the restart hooker Martin Bezuidenhout went offside, after one of his teammates failed to control a high bomb, and Van Breda regained the lead for his team – 9-8. That's how it stayed to the break.
The Lions ad the first scoring chance of the second half – a dominant scrum earning Jantjies a shot at goal from 40 metres out. The flyhalf slotted the kick as his team regained the lead – 11-9.
From the restart the Lions ran the all out from their 22 and ended up over the Kings' line – only to be denied by the TMO. The Lions won a five-metre scrum and their dominance at the set piece earned them two more penalties. However, at the third scrum their control let them down and the Kings were able to clear their lines.
The same happened minutes later at a ruck just inside the Kings 22, when the visitors got greater numbers to the breakdown and were able to turn over the ball.
However, the reward came in the 55th minute – with Jaco Kriel getting his team's second try. It came from a line-out, with the Lions going right, before coming then moving it swiftly to the left where the loose forward showed the ball, before using his pace to go over. Jantjies added the extras – 18-9, with 25 minutes remaining.
As the game moved into the final quarter, the Lions earned another penalty on he Kings 22, but Jantjies was wide of the mark. However, the Kings were still 17 points shy of retaining heir Super Rugby status.
However, the game was turned on its head when centre Nicolaas Hanekom was yellow carded for a dangerous tip tackle. The Kings quickly made their numerical advantage count – setting up a line-out and after a few furious phases Schalk Ferreira was over for a Kings try. Van Breda added the extras – 16-18.
The Kings, despite a very powerful Lions maul, managed to win a turnover inside their 22 and started a sublime counter that resulted in Van Breda getting a second try. Van Breda added the extras – making it 23-18 and leaving the Lions with just a three-point margin in the two-match series.
And that is how it stayed, despite a late rally by the Lions to get a late winner.
Man of the match: There were many players in both teams who put their hands up, but our award goes to Lions captain JC Janse van Rensburg. His powerful scrumming is what turned the game and gave his team the momentum they were looking for.
Moment of the match: There were four great tries, but the turning point was the yellow card of Lions centre Nicolaas Hanekom in the 66th minute. Up to that stage the Lions looked home and dry, but the decision saw the Kings reclaim the momentum and a win, almost also retained their Super Rugby status.
Villain of the match: Most people would go for yellow card man Nicolaas Hanekom, but we feel this game had only heroes – also some who were on the losing side.
For the Lions:
Tries: Minnie, Kriel
Pens: Jantjies 2
For the Southern Kings:
Tries: Ferreira, Van Breda
Cons: Van Breda 2
Pens: Van Breda 3
Yellow card: Nicolaas Hanekom (Lions, 66 – foul play, tip tackle)
Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan Des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Chrysander Botha.
Southern Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Scott van Breda, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell (captain), 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Shane Gates.
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha, Marius Jonker
TMO: Shaun Veldsman