Lions edge titanic tussle

An Armand van der Merwe try at the death gave the Lions a dramatic 22-18 victory over the Vodacom Bulls at Ellis Park on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.

It was an absorbing game of rugby, right until the very last moment. A 78th-minute Jacques-Louis Potgieter penalty looked to have snatched victory for the Bulls, but a failure to secure their kick-off handed the Lions one final opportunity – and they needed no second invitation.

Trailing 18-15, a penalty would've given the sides a share of the spoils, but Faf de Klerk had other ideas, opting for a quick tap before shovelling the ball on to Van der Merwe, who bulldozed his way over for the match-winning try.

It was a tremendous effort from the home side, who now find themselves just two points behind the Bulls at the top of a wide-open South African conference after an amazing turnaround in fortunes.

The Lions started positively, with all the confidence of a side coming off a successful tour. They initially dominated the collisions at the gainline, while their support lines were superb and they were full value for their 6-0 lead after the opening quarter.

Having shown their willingness to keep ball in hand, the Lions wouldn't have been pleased to see the rain coming down midway through the first half. As a result, the scrums were forced to set higher and the Bulls started to gain the ascendancy.

Potgieter was unsuccessful with two long-range penalty attempts, but made no mistake with his third in the 27th minute. He would add two more before the end of the half, as the Bulls headed into the sheds with a narrow 9-6 lead.

However, with the Bulls coming under increasing pressure in the scrums, the Lions managed to work their way back into the match. Elton Jantjies, who had earlier missed a kick at the end of the first half, levelled the scores at 9-9 heading into the final quarter.

The lead would change hands numerous times as the clock wore down, as Potgieter and Jantjies traded blows from the kicking tee. Trailing by three points with six minutes remaining, Warren Whiteley opted for the points in a move that showed his maturity as a captain.

The last-minute try vindicated his decision, as the Lions continue to triumph in the face of adversity.

Lions – Try: Armand van der Merwe. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (5).
Bulls – Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (6).

Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.

Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Jürgen Visser.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images