The Lions scored eight tries as they came away with a 57-21 bonus-point win over the Kings at Ellis Park on Friday night. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
In the end, the Lions secured the result that everyone would have expected, but they certainly made hard work of it. After half an hour, the scores were deadlocked at 7-7, while just 10 points separated the sides after 55 minutes, but in the final quarter the hosts powered their way to what was a somewhat flattering win in the end.
Ultimately, the Lions bagged the desired five log points and remain in a position to maintain their position of ascendancy at the top of the overall Super Rugby standings, and another win over the Jaguares next weekend could see them earn the right to home-ground advantage throughout the playoff stage.
Although it was a far from perfect performance from the Lions, it’s ultimately the sort of game that was always going to be difficult for them to get up for, and they’ll just be grateful to take the result and run.
When the Lions scored as early as the second minute through centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, it looked as if the clash was going to go according to the widely expected script.
Yet, as the Kings have done all season, they scrapped and fought as if their lives depended on it, while by contrast, the Lions’ handling and accuracy with ball in hand and at the breakdown uncharacteristically let them down.
Fully deservedly, the Kings drew the scores level with a try to scrumhalf James Hall in the 14th minute, and it was clear that the Lions were left a little shell-shocked by the intensity and fighting spirit of the gallant visitors. Against all expectations, Louis Fouché had an opportunity to put the Kings into the lead just after the quarter-hour mark, but he sent a relatively simple penalty sailing well wide.
It perhaps served as a bit of a wake-up call for the Lions, who upped the pace of the game and suddenly began to stretch the defence of the Kings, which has been a perennial problem for the Eastern Cape-based side all season.
Nevertheless, it was a huge credit to the Kings when Lions captain Jaco Kriel instructed Elton Jantjies to kick for poles in the 31st minute, and he duly edged the hosts into a three-point lead.
A couple of minutes later and there was finally some relief for the Lions when fullback Andries Coetzee was put away for a well-worked try to open up a bit of breathing room before the break. Nevertheless, the Kings would have had enough reason to look up at the scoreboard and be immensely proud of the fact that the Lions were just 10 points ahead.
Considering that the Lions came into the clash with top spot in the Africa 2 conference already secured, complacency was always expected to be the biggest threat to their prospects of securing a comfortable win over the Kings.
However, as illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, they would have wondered how they enjoyed just a relatively narrow lead at the break. In the first half, the Lions had made 365m to 77, beat 17 defenders to four, and completed eight clean breaks to none.
The Kings missed 17 tackles and also conceded eight tackles in the opening stanza, and yet it was testament to the Lions’ unusually poor execution that they only had a 17-7 lead to show for their efforts at half-time.
At the break, Lions coach Johan Ackermann suggested it had been the ‘worst rugby they had played for a long time’ and called for his charges to get back to basics in the second half.
Accordingly, there was a clear desire from the Lions to protect possession better when taking the ball into contact, and a typically opportunistic try from Faf de Klerk stretched the lead to 24-7.
But just as it looked as if the Lions would begin to pull away, a poor pass from Elton Jantjies enabled Kings centre Stefan Watermeyer to sprint away for an intercept try that would have heaped on the frustration for Ackermann in the coaches’ box.
In a decisive double blow for the Kings, though, both Shane Gates and Edgar Marutlulle were yellow-carded on either side of the hour mark as a result of repeated infringements.
During the time that the Lions had the numbers advantage, Franco Mostert and Malcolm Marx scored as the Johannesburg-based side finally secured the try-scoring bonus point with 15 minutes left to play.
Janse van Rensburg, Sylvian Mahuza and Courtnall Skosan then all scored during the latter stages as the Lions stretched their lead, but perhaps deservedly, Schalk Ferreira had the final say with a late consolation try for the visitors.
Lions – Try: Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2), Andries Coetzee, Faf de Klerk, Franco Mostert, Malcolm Marx, Sylvian Mahuza, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4), Ruan Combrinck (2). Penalty: Jantjies.
Kings – Tries: James Hall, Stefan Watermeyer, Schalk Ferreira. Conversions: Louis Fouché (3).
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Kings – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Lukhanyo Am, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 James Hall, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 John-Charles Astle, 4 Schalk Oelofse, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Edgar Marutlulle (c), 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Subs: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images