The Lions scored 10 points in the last eight minutes to beat the Jaguares 24-21 at Ellis Park on Friday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
For most of the second half of this match it looked as if the Lions' nine-match winning streak at home would come to an end.
The Jaguares' third try, in the 50th minute, gave them a 21-14 lead and the Lions were then reduced to 14 men when Harold Vorster was yellow-carded. But the visitors failed to add to their tally while the centre was off, and a late surge from the Lions secured a valuable win.
The Joburg-based franchise are now six log points clear of the second-placed Stormers in the South African group, with the latter set to play the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Jaguares beat a second-string Lions team 36-24 in Buenos Aires last month, and were unlucky not to win again on the highveld against a full-strength outfit. They disrupted the Lions at the breakdown, had 52% of the possession, and managed to keep 15 players on the field for the full 80 minutes.
The Argentinians made a superb start to the match when Matias Orlando darted over from a ruck after three offloads in the tackle had stretched the Lions' defence.
The Lions hit back in the 10th minute, attacking down the blind side from a scrum through Andries Coetzee. Jaco Kriel then carried it up, before Vorster ran a good angle off quick ruck ball and dived over the whitewash.
Warren Whiteley was denied a try at the end of the first quarter when TV replays showed he'd put a foot in touch, but Lionel Mapoe gave the Lions a 14-7 lead soon after with a brilliant individual try. The midfielder sold a dummy to a defender, handed off another would-be tackler, threw another dummy and cut back inside to score.
The Jaguares dominated the next period of play and went into the break having enjoyed 65% of the territory, but were unable to convert all that pressure into points.
At half-time Lions coach Johan Ackermann told his team to lift the tempo in the second half, but it was the Jaguares who came out firing and levelled the scores with a converted try by Rodrigo Baez.
The visitors then took advantage of a Lions' error to surge back on to the attack, with Baez being brought down just short of the line. From there, they sent the ball quickly through the hands and Guido Petti scored in the left-hand corner. Sánchez nailed the touchline conversion.
The Lions' woes continued when Vorster was yellow-carded for a cynical infringement at the breakdown, although Sánchez missed the resultant penalty, which would prove crucial.
Both teams then turned to their bench, with the Lions replacing their whole front row and bringing Faf de Klerk on at scrumhalf. The fresh legs would help to lift the hosts.
Courtnal Skosan made a try-saving tackle on Jeronimo De La Fuente, and the Lions went on to keep their opponents scoreless while down to 14 men.
The hosts, with Vorster back on, thought they'd scored a crucial try when Sylvian Mahuza burst away down the right-hand touchline, but the substitute had stepped into touch.
However, they did get over a minute later, when a great team try was finished off by Ruan Ackermann. Jantjies slotted the pressure conversion from a difficult angle to make it 21-21.
With five minutes to go, a strong Lions scrum won a penalty that Jantjies kicked to put the hosts back in front.
There would be some late drama. With the full-time hooter having sounded, the Lions forced a turnover, but opted to carry the ball instead of kicking it out. The Jaguares then won a penalty, but fortunately for the hosts they were able to force another turnover in the 84th minute that ended the game.
Lions – Tries: Matías Orlando, Rodrigo Baez, Guido Petti. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (3).
Jaguares – Tries: Harold Vorster, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Ackermann. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalty: Jantjies.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Malcom Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Jaques Nel, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Jaguares – 15 Ramiro Moyano, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Bautista Ezcurra, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Subs: 16 Roberto Tejerizo, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 23 Emiliano Boffelli.
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images