The Golden Lions claimed a 58-24 victory against the Blue Bulls in the U21 Championship final at Newlands on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
With a team boasting several Junior Springboks, the Lions’ quality proved telling, especially in the opening exchanges, and it ultimately allowed them to win the title they last had in 2016.
Lions fullback Jeanluc Cilliers showed plenty of composure behind a pack that struggled in the second half, kicking six penalties and five conversions for a personal haul of 28 points.
It was a dream first quarter from the dominant Lions as they found themselves 20-3 up thanks to tries from No 8 Len Massyn and tireless wing Tyrone Green.
Lombard piled on the misery for the Bulls by running a perfect line off the back of the scrum, handing off a poor tackle on his way to the line for his fifth try of the season.
The Bulls finally got some respite when some good counter-rucking gave them a turnover close to the Lions’ tryline. After taking the ball through a couple of phases, Jaco Bezuidenhout spotted a gap and sprinted in for their first try.
With a couple of senior substitutes in Manie Libbok and Hendre Stassen on the field early, the Bulls started to see more of the ball. Stassen gave the Lions a headache with a number of strong carries, and Libbok brought some much-needed control to the Bulls backline.
However, they were unable to cut the deficit any further with the Lions going into the break 27-10 ahead.
The half-time talk seemed to have done the Lions some good as they settled into an attacking rhythm and extended their lead through Cilliers’ third penalty.
The Bulls camped down in the Lions’ 22 and struck back when replacement JC Pretorius snatched the ball from behind a teammate and ran through a gap for their second try.
Cilliers kicked another penalty to keep the scoreboard ticking over but Libbok charged down an attempted clearance to put his side well back in the match, going into the final quarter.
Another couple of penalties from Cilliers gave the Lions a bit of a buffer, before Green went on an incredible solo run from inside his own half to bring his side close to the line. It was big replacement prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye who eventually forced his way over.
The Lions were not done there as replacement wing Shaun Williams and Wandisile Similane dotted down late on.
Golden Lions U21 – Tries: Len Massyn, Tyrone Green, Gianni Lombard, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Shaun Williams, Wandisile Simelane. Conversions: Jeanluc Cilliers (5). Penalties: Cilliers (6).
Blue Bulls U21 – Tries: Jaco Bezuidenhout, JC Pretorius, Manie Libbok. Conversions: Libbok (3). Penalty: Andell Loubser.
Golden Lions U21 – 15 Jeanluc Cilliers, 14 Jan-Louis la Grange, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Manuel Rass, 11 Tyrone Green, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Bradley Thain, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Dian Schoonees, 5 Ruan Vermaak, 4 Darrien-lane Landsberg, 3 Chergin Fillies, 2 HP van Schoor, 1 Leo Kruger.
Subs: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Nathan McBeth, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 PJ Steenkamp, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Morne van der Berg, 22 Eduard Fourie, 23 Shaun Williams.
Blue Bulls U21 – 15 Andell Loubser, 14 Cameron Hufke, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Wian van Niekerk, 11 Xolisa Guma, 10 Fiela Boshoff, 9 Gunter Smuts, 8 Dylan van der Walt, 7 Ewart Potgieter, 6 Jaco Bezuidenhout, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Ewan Coetzee, 3 Mornay Smith, 2 Johan Grobbelaar (c), 1 Dewald Maritz.
Subs: 16 Werner Fourie, 17 Simpiwe Matanzima, 18 Denver Prins, 19 Hendre Stassen, 20 JC Pretorius, 21 Lian du Toit, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Erich Cronje.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images