A Ruan Combrinck try against the run of play guided the Lions to a hard-fought 13-10 win over the Blues in Albany on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
For much of the match it looked inevitable that the Blues would end their winless streak and confine the Lions to their fourth consecutive defeat. Instead, it was the Lions who took a leaf out of the Cheetahs' book, absorbing pressure for much of the 80 minutes, before launching a late assault to snatch a memorable victory, their first against the Blues in New Zealand since 2001.
Johan Ackermann spoke earlier this week of using his bench to make an impact late on, and it was replacement scrumhalf Faf de Klerk's break that led to Combrinck's match-winning try. It was one of the few foray's into opposition territory, with the match almost solely being played in the Lions' half of the field.
The Blues spent almost a quarter of the match camped in the Lions' 22, but managed just one try, through All Blacks loose forward Jerome Kaino. The Lions loose trio were instrumental to their victory, shutting down the Blues' ball-carriers and not allowing them to free their hands and find the pass. The hosts led 10-3 at the break, with the Lions' sole effort coming via the boot of Elton Jantjies.
Jantjies would move the Lions within striking distance 10 minutes into the second half, as the belief grew on the back of an advancing scrum. After numerous resets in the first half, referee Matt O'Brian lost his patience with the Blues.
Combrinck had a chance to extend the Lions' lead with seven minutes remaining, but his long-range penalty drifted just wide. The Blues made their way into the Lions half, and after winning a penalty, Ihaia West failed to draw the two teams level.
The Blues would get one final chance, but a dominant Lions scrum secured a tighthead and De Klerk kicked the ball into touch to spark wild celebrations at the final whistle.
John Kirwan will come under increasing pressure as his side remain rooted to the foot of the table after going four weeks without a win. Meanwhile, Ackermann's side will look to build on this result when they face the Crusaders in Christchurch next weekend.
Blues – Try: Jerome Kaino. Conversion: Ihaia West. Penalty: West.
Lions – Try: Ruan Combrinck. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Photo: Simon Watts/Getty Images