The Lions played great rugby to beat the Stormers at Ellis Park, writes MARK KEOHANE.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
This was a performance to savour. The Lions were sensational in the first 30 minutes, determined in the next 30 and mentally dominant in the final quarter. It was the type of win the franchise needed. This was no last-minute fluke. This wasn’t one gifted to Johan Ackermann’s youngsters.
This was earned and it was a win crafted through an application to the basics, through playing as a unit, and it was a win so brilliantly executed by a flyhalf who was not going to start the season at flyhalf. Elton Jantjies was the preferred option at No 10, but there will be no way back for him unless injury strikes young Marnitz Boshoff.
Sport is about nights like the one the Lions experienced at Ellis Park. There was romance to the win but there was also confirmation that David can still slay Goliath in Super Rugby.
Whatever the struggles of the Lions in the past, this was a performance to be applauded. Forget the struggles and focus on the potential of the season. Two wins from two.
Drink a toast to the Lions.
They are a team playing with passion but they are also playing with the conviction of a pre-determined plan and they certainly play for their coach.
I loved watching the game.
I expected the match to be close, given the Stormers were playing for the first time and the Lions had the advantage of last week’s 80 minutes and also playing at home. But it was never close and even when the Lions lost players to the bin they were never threatened.
The Stormers were not good but they were not allowed to be anything. To focus entirely on the ineptness of the Stormers would be to dismiss the effort of the Lions.
The victors showed character in last week’s win against the Cheetahs but in Johannesburg on Saturday night they showed all the characteristics of a team that knows how to play rugby.
The Kings a year ago were the Cinderella story of South African Super Rugby in the way they started. They too won two from three.
The difference is they played purely on emotion and the grind of the tournament killed their limited resources. The Lions have more potential and greater rugby pedigree.
They simply have to trust their belief, regardless of the results column. It was a treat to watch the hosts. It was the opposite watching a Stormers outfit that will have to improve dramatically to make the top six.
The Stormers don’t have a halfback pairing to fear but they do have a pack that should stand up to any. In Johannesburg the very respected pack came second. Credit for that must go to the Lions who were intense in the collisions and importantly composed in this facet of the game.
Marnitz Boshoff is on fire. No team can defend drop goals and no team can mount a fightback when points keep coming. Boshoff’s effort reminded me of that incredible quarter of kicking from Jannie de Beer in the 1999 World Cup quarter-final against England.
The neutral will see what the Lions have done. The Stormers fan understandably won’t just yet appreciate the magnitude of the game. It was the kind of result the South African conference needed. It was the result the tournament needed.
The Stormers, under Allister Coetzee, have been a team in decline for three seasons. And their squad this season is the weakest in those three seasons.
The manner of defeat was disappointing, as was the attitude of players who should have no excuse for not matching the desire of the Lions.
But to harp on about the Stormers at this moment is not the story. The dissection of the performance will come in the week. For now, stand tall and applaud the Lions. They earned the right to every bit of purple prose.
My goodness they played great rugby. What a great night.
A team with no sponsor played like a team with the greatest sponsor – themselves.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images
Stander’s a standout performer
CJ Stander became the first non-Irishman to win Munster’s Player of the Year award and qualifies to play for Ireland after the World Cup. GERRY THORNLEY reports.
Faf’s taking the gap
Faf de Klerk’s Super Rugby performances have put him in line for higher honours, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
‘SA can learn from Hurricanes’
What former Springbok coach NICK MALLETT had to say on SuperSport about the Vodacom Super Rugby semi-finals.