Courtnall Skosan and Tiaan Swanepoel scored the only tries of the game to guide the Lions to a commanding 27-12 victory over the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday.
This was the perfect opportunity for the Sharks to move within three, potentially four, log points of the Vodacom Bulls with still a game in hand. Instead, this result moves the Lions to second in the standings, above the Sharks and Western Province.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt is likely to demand a sharper showing in the wake of this defeat. While the Lions emerged convincing winners, there were times when they took poor options and their handling let them down, but the Sharks were just unable to capitalise on their hosts’ errors and never really got going in this contest.
Having said that, the Lions were full value for their win. They had the ascendancy at scrum time and were quite dynamic at the breakdown. In contrast to the Sharks conceding eight penalties in the first half and seven in the second, the Lions kept churning out an exemplary disciplinary performance as well.
The game itself failed to become a spectacle, with both sides relying on contestable kicks in the first half and territorial kicks in the second. But it was the Lions’ grinding up front that eventually set them apart.
Indeed, it took all of 15 minutes for the hosts to open up an 8-0 lead, courtesy of a penalty and an unconverted try scored by Courtnall Skosan in the left corner. Up to that stage, the Sharks were well outplayed, but Curwin Bosch brought his side right back into the contest with two monstrous penalty kicks from well within his own half.
The Lions, though, quickly reinstated their eight-point buffer with fullback Swanepoel and Jantjies knocking over a penalty each.
The Sharks made a better start to the second half than the home side and when the Lions conceded an early penalty, Bosch stepped up to land his third conversion to make it a five-point game.
But just as it looked as though the Sharks were on the comeback trail, the Lions called on their granite-like scrum to wrestle back the momentum.
In the final quarter of the game the Lions outscored the Sharks 13 points to three, thanks in part to excellent defence right on their tryline on more than one occasion. Case in point being when a brilliant tackle by Willem Alberts five metres out forced a turnover in the Lions’ favour and from there the Sharks conceded a penalty, allowing the Lions to easily exit from the danger zone.
The Lions’ dual kickers combined for six further points, before some late magic from centre Wandisile Simelane proved to be the final nail in the Sharks’ coffin.
On the back of a dominant scrum, Simelane’s strong run, which included a couple of vicious steps that left Sharks defenders in his wake, was the catalyst in setting up Swanepoel for the match-sealing try. Try as they might towards the end, the Sharks just could not break down the Lions defence and slumped to a 15-point defeat.
Lions – Tries: Courtnall Skosan, Tiaan Swanepoel. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (3), Swanepoel (2).
Sharks – Penalties: Curwin Bosch (4).
Lions – 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (c), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka/Wilhelm van der Sluys, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole/Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Jamba Ulengo, 24 Carlu Sadie, 25 Manuel Rass.
Sharks – 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 JJ van der Mescht, 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Thembelani Bholi 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Phepsi Buthelezi, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Photo: Lions Rugby/Twitter