The Lions secured an eighth successive win of the season as they held on to edge the Brumbies 13-6 in Canberra on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
What an ugly win this was, but for the Lions, it completes an unbeaten tour of Australia, and ensures they will return to South Africa with another valuable four log points in the bag.
On so many occasions, the Lions’ irrepressible attack has laid the foundation for victory, but this time it was gutsy defence and immense character that enabled the Johannesburg-based side to stave off defeat against a highly motivated Brumbies team.
The Australian side had made a storming start to proceedings as they forced the Lions on to the back foot through some impressive phase play, which saw the hosts come close to scoring on two occasions (one try was disallowed, while fullback Aidan Toua was then bundled into touch only a metre short).
The stats in the opening quarter certainly told a worrying story for the Lions, with the Brumbies making 129m to nine, 42 carries to seven, 59 passes to eight, while beating five defenders to none as they enjoyed as much as 81% possession. As it was, the visitors were forced to make 55 tackles compared to nine during the opening 20 minutes when the alarm bells would have been ringing all the way back to Johannesburg.
On the balance of play, the Brumbies would have been mighty disappointed to only have three points to show for their efforts, with flyhalf Wharenui Hawera knocking over a penalty in the 19th minute.
All in all, it was the Lions’ worst 40-minute showing this season as the Brumbies dominated at the gainline and hurried the visitors into errors. Yet the men in red were also let off the hook as a result of the Brumbies’ utter inability to make the most of their overall dominance.
Understandably, during the half-time interview, exasperated coach Johan Ackermann said the Lions would have to change some tactics in order to secure the ball and avoid defending for such long periods. He also opted to change the entire front row in the 48th minute, and it reaped almost immediate reward as the Lions won a scrum penalty soon after, which was duly slotted by Elton Jantjies.
It signalled a momentum shift as the Lions pounced on a loose pass soon after, with Lionel Mapoe getting the ball away to Blitzboks star Kwagga Smith, who displayed his incredible pace to dart 60m for a crucial try in the context of the clash.
The Brumbies did make it a four-point ball game when Hawera slotted a second penalty just after the hour mark, but the Lions’ defence held firm during an intense final quarter where their impressive fitness once again came to the fore.
Indeed, the manner in which the Lions jubilantly celebrated as Andries Coetzee slotted a late penalty to seal the result said everything about just how much this hard-fought win meant to last year's runners-up.
Brumbies – Penalties: Wharenui Hawera (2).
Lions – Try: Kwagga Smith. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies, Andries Coetzee.
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (c), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Ben Alexander.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Ben Hyne, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Tom Banks.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Robert Kruger/Cyle Brink, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink.
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images