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Fourteen-man Lions break South Africa's Galway drought

MATCH REPORT: Despite playing with a man down for 65 minutes, the Lions produced their best performance of the season to become the first South African team to win at Galway’s Sportsground.

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Nine times South African teams arrived at Connacht’s home ground and nine times they departed after being defeated.

This time, a motivated Lions team overcame the questionable red card of prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye to record a bonus-point 38-14 win over the Irish province and move ahead of them into the top eight on the United Rugby Championship standings.

Having put 40 points on the Sharks last time out, Ivan van Rooyen’s side stunned the Irish province.

Francke Horn and JC Pretorius both crossed to give the Lions a 12-7 half-time as they reacted impressively to Ntlabakanye’s sending-off for a 16th-minute high tackle.

Despite Cian Prendergast’s try, Connacht were struggling and Edwill van der Merwe’s 48th-minute intercept score raised real hopes of the Lions’ first away win in the URC since beating the Scarlets in November.

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JJ Hanrahan doubled Connacht’s try tally, pulling it back to 19-14 with his second conversion, but Erich Cronje, Horn and replacement Morné van den Berg turned it into a runaway six-try victory, with Jordan Hendrikse finishing with four conversions.

The Lions went ahead in the seventh minute when JP Smith’s well-timed pass sent number eight Horn in under the posts, with Hendrikse adding the extras.

Connacht were inches away from responding but a crucial Quan Horn tackle just dislodged the ball to deny the jinking Andrew Smith.

The complexion of the game initially changed through two TMO reviews as Wayne Davies confirmed Prendergast’s score from a ruck before Ntlabakanye saw red for making direct contact with Conor Oliver’s head.

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Hanrahan landed the levelling conversion but the 14-man Lions were back ahead by the half-hour mark. From a well-worked maul, flanker Pretorius powered over from Darrien Landsberg’s aerial take.

Scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba almost added a third try just before the interval but captain Marius Louw was guilty of taking out Joe Joyce.

Just as Connacht was building momentum on the resumption, Lions full-back Horn expertly dealt with a Caolin Blade kick-through and set up a line-out downfield.

The Westerners were stung further when van der Merwe swooped on a Byron Ralston pass for a 50-metre run-in and Hendrikse’s conversion made it 19-7.

Hanrahan replied within seven minutes, using Cathal Forde’s pullback pass to go in behind the posts and convert, leaving five points in it again.

Nonetheless, Connacht’s nine-match winning run at home to South African opposition was ended in some style by the Lions as Cronje dummied and darted his way to a 62nd-minute bonus-point score.

Terrific hands from Pretorius and van der Merwe set up Horn to complete his brace before van der Berg finished off a speedy breakaway effort in the 78th minute.

Player of the Match

It was a match to forget for Connacht, who had come into round 12 on the back of three straight wins. The Lions never allowed the hosts’ numerical advantage to have an impact. Louw and Cronje stood out in the Lions’ midfield but JC Pretorius was a deserved winner of the award for his well-taken try from a maul, his work-rate in defence, and that peach of an offload in the lead-up to the penultimate try.

Play of the match

Registering a third win of the day for the South African teams, the Lions played some excellent attacking rugby to regularly get in behind Connacht’s defence. Their best try came when Pretorius’ excellent offload, away from two tackles, found van der Merwe on the left wing and he passed back inside for the supporting Horn to double his haul.

 

The scorers

For Connacht
Tries: Prendergast, Hanrahan
Cons: Hanrahan 2

For the Lions
Tries: Horn 2, Pretorius, Van der Merwe, Cronje, Van den Berg
Cons: Hendrikse 3

Red card: Asenathi Ntlabakanye (Lions, 17 – foul play, high tackle)

Teams

Connacht: 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 David Hawkshaw, 12 Cathal Forde, 11 Andrew Smith, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Caolin Blade (captain), 8 Sean O’Brien, 7 Conor Oliver, 6 Cian Prendergast, 5 Joe Joyce, 4 Niall Murray, 3 Jack Aungier, 2 Tadgh McElroy, 1 Denis Buckley.
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Jordan Duggan, 18 Sam Illo, 19 Darragh Murray, 20 Shamus Hurley-Langton, 21 Colm Reilly, 22 Jack Carty, 23 Paul Boyle.

Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Richard Kriel, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Marius Louw (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Morgan Naudé, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Darrien Landsberg, 20 Izan Esterhuizen, 21 Hanru Sirgel, 22 Morné van den Berg, 23 Stean Pienaar.

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Assistant referees: Robbie Jenkinson (Ireland), Oisin Quinn (Ireland)
TMO: Greg Morgan (Wales)

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