The Lions’ powerful scrum laid the foundation for a season-opening 26-19 victory over the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
These two teams have been widely predicted to be the likely candidates to lead the South African Super Rugby challenge this season, and they certainly produced a highly compelling and competitive clash, but it was the Lions who emerged as worthy victors.
Some have wondered just how the Lions might respond following the departure of long-serving coach Johan Ackermann, but they produced a characteristically vibrant and composed performance at home.
The Sharks made an emphatic start to this contest as they fronted up physically and at the breakdown, while new recruit Rob du Preez enjoyed a dream start to his debut when he darted past Elton Jantjies to dot down under the posts in the eighth minute.
However, the one area of dominance for the Lions proved to be at scrum time, and it was from a penalty won at this set piece that possession was recycled for Lionel Mapoe to go over for the hosts’ opening try.
Considering the Sharks have opted to back Thomas du Toit to make the transition from loosehead to tighthead prop this season, there will be some concern over his early troubles at scrum time, although to be fair, he wasn’t the only forward to struggle in that department.
The Lions’ scrum ascendancy also effectively enabled the home team to swing momentum back in their favour, and just after the quarter-hour mark, talented winger Aphiwe Dyantyi finished off a superb solo try to help send his side into a 14-7 lead.
There would have been further concern for the Sharks when influential No 8 Dan du Preez – who had been a late replacement for Keegan Daniel – was forced from the field just before half-time with what looked to be a serious shoulder or arm injury.
Yet the break seemed to serve the Sharks well as they pounced on possession after the restart, with a lovely pass from Cameron Wright and a powerful try-scoring finish from S’bu Nkosi enabling the Durbanites to cut the deficit to two points.
The Sharks then achieved some scrum redemption as Springbok Beast Mtawarira won a penalty just after coming on as a replacement, but Du Preez missed the regulation goal kick.
It appeared to be a costly miss as just moments later a beautiful break from Andries Coetzee set up a second try for Mapoe, but the Sharks almost immediately hit back through Makazole Mapimpi.
The Lions restored a handy seven-point lead when Kwagga Smith powered over the tryline on the hour mark, but the Sharks remained on the hunt as Jantjies missed two penalty kicks heading into the latter stages of the clash.
In the dying minutes, the Sharks launched one desperate attack in search of a draw, but a superb turnover from Hacjivah Dayimani proved to be a match-defining moment.
Lions – Tries: Lionel Mapoe (2), Aphiwe Dyantyi, Kwagga Smith. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3).
Sharks – Tries: Rob du Preez, S’bu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Du Preez (2).
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (c), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Beast Mtawarira, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Tyler Paul, 21 Gran Williams, 22 Kobus van Wyk, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images