Lions begin life in Europe with an impressive win
URC MATCH REPORT: The Lions put their poor Currie Cup campaign behind them with a winning start in Europe.
In a game where the defence was optional at times, the Lions opened the United Rugby Championship tournament with an impressive 38-26 win over a Zebre team that featured 10 Italian internationals./
The nine-try feast saw the visitors raced out to a 35-0 half-time lead – which became 38-0 early in the second half.
However, as if a magic wand was waved, Zebre turned on the charm and scored four unanswered tries – forcing the Lions to hold on desperately in the final 10 minutes.
* Did you miss any of the action? To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!
The South Africans looked set to blow away their hosts as a pair of quickfire tries from Rabz Maxwane added to scores from Jamba Ulengo, Burger Odendaal and Jaco Visagie to help establish a commanding 35-0 half-time advantage at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
But Zebre produced an astonishing response thanks to scores from Carlo Canna, Tommaso Boni, Oliviero Fabiani and a penalty try before agonisingly falling short.
The Lions’ quest for victory was also boosted by 13 points from the boot of Jordan Hendrikse, while Canna kicked four points for the hosts.
The Italians registered just four wins from 21 games across the Pro14 and Rainbow Cup last season and they were swiftly staring down the barrel as the curtain raised on the new competition.
Lions wing Ulengo completed a slick team move by collecting a wonderful pass from flyhalf Hendrikse to claim an historic first try of the championship in the 11th minute before captain Odendaal crossed under the posts five minutes later.
The electric pace of wing Maxwane then appeared to have taken the game away from Michael Bradley’s side.
He scored arguably the try of the night by expertly finishing a flowing team move which began on the opposite flank before bursting on to a line-splitting kick to touch down just three minutes later.
Rampaging hooker Visagie capped a one-sided opening 40 minutes by seizing on a loose ball to bulldoze over wide on the left.
Zebre’s bid to gain a foothold in the contest was repeatedly thwarted by momentum-halting turnovers.
The one-way traffic looked set to continue after the break when Hendrikse added a penalty.
But that kicked proved to be the visitors’ only points of an enthralling second period in which the hosts launched a spirited response.
Canna reduced the arrears by finishing a free-flowing move in the 51st minute and then converting before the penalty try breathed additional life into proceedings
Sibusiso Sangweni’s sin-binning further aided the home team’s cause and they took full advantage as Boni and Fabiani bundled over in quick succession to set up a grandstand finish.
Zebre’s remarkable reaction increased decibel levels on the terraces but, despite constant pressure in the closing stages, they were unable to complete the turnaround as the Lions breathed a sigh of relief.
Man of the match: In an impressive second-half Zebre flyhalf Carlo Canna pulled the strings, while flank Maxime Mbandà made life miserable for the Lions forwards. In that first half rout the Lions halfbacks – No.10 Jordan Hendrikse and No.9 Andre Warner – were in sublime form. Hooker Jaco Visagie won some crucial early turnovers at the breakdown and scored one of his team’s five first-half tries. Our award goes to the Lions scrums – which set the platform for a dominant performance and the eventual win. Zebre coach Michael Bradley spoke of the ‘biggest front row ever to visit Parma’ and his word ran true as the home team’s scrum was pummelled into submission.
Tries: Canna, Penalty try, Boni, Fabiani
Cons: Canna 2, Penalty try does not require a conversion
For the Lions
Tries: Ulengo, Odendaal, Maxwane 2, Visagie
Cons: Hendrikse 5
Zebre: 15 Junior Laloifi, 14 Pierre Bruno, 13 Giulio Bisegni (captain), 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Renato Giammarioli, 7 Iacopo Bianchi, 6 Maxime Mbandà, 5 Leonard Krumov, 4 David Sisi, 3 Matteo Nocera, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Danilo Fischetti.
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Andrea Lovotti, 18 Ion Neculai, 19 Andrea Zambonin, 20 Giovanni Licata, 21 Alessandro Fusco, 22 Antonio Rizzi, 23 Jacopo Trulla.
Lions: 15 EW Viljoen, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Ruan Dreyer.
Replacements: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Eddie Fouche, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Referee: Chris Busby (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Riccardo Angelucci (Italy), Federico Boraso (Italy)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)
The first try in United Rugby Championship history! 😍
Jamba Ulengo finishes off a slick @LionsRugbyCo move for their first of five first-half scores!#URC | #ZEBLIO pic.twitter.com/MJy5vj3JbY
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) September 24, 2021