The Lions beat the Waratahs 29-28 at Ellis Park on Saturday to climb off the bottom of the ever-competitive South African conference.
On a weekend when their rivals – the Bulls, Sharks and Jaguares – were subjected to defeats, while the Stormers enjoyed a bye-round, the Lions took full advantage to make up some lost ground in the local conference. The result lifts coach Swys de Bruin’s charges above the Stormers to fourth position and puts them just three points off top spot.
In a proverbial game of cat and mouse, the Lions and Waratahs went blow for blow in their quest for the ascendancy.
Unfortunately for the hosts, they were made to play catch-up from the outset. But what the game lacked in physicality, it made up for in dynamism and excitement.
In a breathless first half, both sides were guilty of pitiful defending with three tries being scored either way. But the Lions reduced their mistakes in the second half and showed massive improvement on defence to curtail the Waratahs and secure the victory.
In end-to-end drama, scores by Wallabies trio Nick Phipps, Michael Hooper and Rob Simmons for the visitors were cancelled out by three tries for the Lions, including touchdowns from Bok duo Aphiwe Dyantyi and Kwagga Smith. A missed conversion by Elton Jantjies would prove the difference at the break, as the Waratahs held a slender two-point lead.
The action continued at the resumption as the sides traded scores once more, which saw the Waratahs retain their lead. But it was more stop-start than in the first-half.
A strong run by prop Dylan Smith got the Lions in a good attacking position. After a sequence of simple ball retention and recycling, the Waratahs were caught offside and penalised accordingly, with replacement Shaun Reynolds’ successful kick edging the hosts ahead by one.
That set the game on a knife’s edge heading into the last 15 minutes. The Waratahs threw everything at the Lions, including an unsuccessful long range drop goal attempt from Foley. Ultimately, the Lions’ big name players proved the difference with the likes of Malcolm Marx, Smith, Jantjies and Warren Whiteley all showing the needed calm and composure to see out the result.
Lions – Tries: Aphiwe Dyantyi, Stephan Lewies, Kwagga Smith, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3).
Waratahs – Tries Nick Phipps, Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4).
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Tyrone Green.
Waratahs – 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Karmichael Hunt, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Subs: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Hugh Sinclair, 20 Will Miller, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 23 Cam Clark.
Photo: Chris Kotze/BackpagePix