Ben Lam scored a hat-trick of tries as the Hurricanes claimed a comfortable 28-19 win over the Lions in Wellington on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
After the Lions’ disappointing defeat to the Reds last weekend, the alarm bells might just be starting to ring for the Johannesburg-based side.
Although the margin of defeat was only nine points, the fact of the matter is that the Lions were quite simply outclassed by the Canes from start to finish in Wellington, while their over-reliance on the influence of Malcolm Marx was exposed when he had to leave the field early on with an injury.
There is no cause to panic just yet as the Lions still enjoy a handy lead at the top of the South African conference, but that position isn’t quite looking so comfortable anymore – especially when one considers they still have to face the Highlanders in Dunedin next weekend.
The Lions endured the worst possible start to this contest as the Hurricanes enjoyed 70% of possession in the opening quarter, while racking up 218 metres carried as they put the visitors’ defence to the test through high speed, ball-in-hand play.
In the eighth minute, the Lions failed that test as Ruan Combrinck and Lionel Mapoe slipped off attempted tackles on Lam, who spun away to score. To make matters worse for the Lions, Marx was forced from the field with a hamstring strain.
The only thing that initially kept the Lions in the contest was the fact that the Canes conceded a number of turnovers early on (10 in the first 25 minutes), but there was a sense of inevitability about it when Matt Proctor broke through the defence, before offloading for Ardie Savea to score.
It had been a first half to forget for the Lions, but with the final play of the stanza, they pounced on an error from the Canes to set up a rare attacking opportunity, which eventually resulted in a try to Nic Groom.
Based on the statistics, it was quite remarkable that the Lions only trailed by seven points at the break. The Hurricanes had made 365m to 76m, completed 69 carries to 36 and beaten 19 defenders to seven, while the South African side missed as many as 19 tackles.
It was another missed tackle – this time from Andries Coetzee – soon after the restart that enabled Lam to dot down for his second try, with the touchline conversion from Beauden Barrett restoring a 14-point advantage.
Minutes later, and the irrepressible Lam wrapped up his hat-trick of tries as the Canes continued to expose the Lions’ waning defence. However, the Lions did well to hit back from the kick-off when Marnus Schoeman wormed his way over the tryline, while they began to completely dominate at scrum time.
The only highlight in a scrappy final quarter saw Sylvian Mahuza score an opportunistic try to ensure the scoreline would look somewhat flattering for the Lions, but a second successive defeat has seen their campaign hit another concerning speed bump.
Hurricanes – Tries: Ben Lam (3), Ardie Savea. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (4).
Lions – Tries: Nic Groom, Marnus Schoeman, Sylvian Mahuza. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2).
Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Vince Aso.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster,, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Franco Mostert (c), 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Photo: Mark Tantrum/AFP/Getty Images