The Hurricanes thrashed the Lions 50-17 in Johannesburg on Saturday, having led 36-5 at half-time. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
This was an encounter that was expected to provide insights into just how far the Lions have come and their ability to adjust their game to overcome another ambitious ball-in-hand New Zealand side. Unfortunately, the portents at Ellis Park were unfavourable for the side that many pundits have viewed as South Africa’s best bet for Super Rugby title honours.
Yet, the Hurricanes quite literally blew the Lions away in the opening half, opening up a 31-point lead as they threw the hosts off their game with incredible line speed on defence and ferocious contesting at the breakdown, while their accuracy on attack was beyond reproach.
The Lions went into Saturday’s clash having lost just two matches this season, but both of those defeats had come against Kiwi opposition. Most recently, the Lions came unstuck against the Crusaders at the beginning of April, and it was on that occasion that the Saders feasted on Lions’ errors and displayed their superiority when it came to executing an effective all-round game.
Unfortunately from a neutral South African perspective, it was a similar story this time around as the Canes pounced on loose play from the Lions, dominated the breakdown and made the most of every opportunity. In a frenetic first half, the visitors benefited from two intercept tries, with Matt Proctor and Cory Jane pouncing, while the latter scored another that originated from a turnover.
The warning signs began flashing as early as the 11th minute when Julian Savea was put away for the first try after a beautiful buildup from the Canes, while prop Reggie Goodes capped off an immense first-half performance when he barged over Courtnall Skosan to score in the corner. It handed the Hurricanes a 36-5 lead at the break. That was game, set and match.
The only joy the Lions had in the first half came when hooker Akker van der Merwe scored from a driving maul on the half-hour mark, but the Canes scored twice after that to put paid to any thoughts of a comeback.
And as illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, the Hurricanes were fully deserving of their half-time lead. Looking beyond the five tries to one, the visitors made 291m to 117, effected six clean breaks to none, and feasted on 11 turnovers. The Lions also missed a costly 14 tackles.
Nevertheless, the Lions certainly had their fair share of possession and territory, but simply couldn’t get their game going as basic mistakes and poor breakdown-ball security prevented them from having any real say on the scoreboard in the opening half.
The manner in which the Lions responded was always going to say a lot about the character of the Johannesburg-based side, and to their credit, they certainly provided the response coach Johan Ackermann asked for at half-time, with Lionel Mapoe and Jaco Kriel both scoring in the third quarter. But it was never going to be enough.
Despite being held scoreless at the start of the second half, the Canes still held a commanding 36-17 lead heading into the final quarter, and in the space of five minutes both Vince Aso and Savea went over to score as the New Zealanders took their try tally up to seven, and the score to 50.
Lions – Tries: Akker van der Merwe, Lionel Mapoe, Jaco Kriel. Conversion: Elton Jantjies.
Hurricanes – Tries: Julian Savea (2), Matt Proctor, Cory Jane (2), Reggie Goodes, Vince Aso. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (6). Penalty: Beauden Barrett.
Lions – 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Dylan Smith.
Substitutes: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 JW Bell, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Hurricanes – 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 James Marshall, 23 Willis Halaholo.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images