Lions smash shocking Sharks

The Golden Lions ran in five tries to book their place in the Currie Cup final with a 50-20 victory over the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.

There was only really one side in this semi-final at Ellis Park. It was anything but the tense, tight affair that is normally associated with this stage of the competition. The Lions played their game and the Sharks simply couldn't stay with them.

They'll deservedly compete in next Saturday's final and neither Western Province nor the Blue Bulls will relish facing Johan Ackermann's team.

The Lions dominated the Sharks in all facets. Jaco Kriel was immense in a pulsating first half, Ruan Dreyer and Schalk van der Merwe were utterly dominant in the scrums, while the Sharks were helpless to deal with the pace with which the Lions played the game.

Matt Stevens and young Thomas du Toit came under immense pressure at scrum time. Stevens was outmatched by the younger, hungrier Van der Merwe and was substituted at half-time. For Du Toit, it was a steep learning curve, but shouldn't have too much of a long-term effect on the talented loosehead.

For the defending champions, it was a disappointing end to a campaign that never looked like ending in another triumph. They lost the collisions up front and were punished out wide. They were also guilty of numerous missed tackles in a forgettable first half. While they showed some pride in the second half, they were undone in a desperately poor first 40 minutes.

The match was effectively over as a contest after the Lions scored two tries in as many minutes to take a 23-3 lead into half-time. Jaco Kriel seemed to be everywhere and grabbed a memorable try before swatting off a number of Sharks defenders in the buildup to Ross Cronjé's try.

Sharks Academy product Howard Mnisi had earlier gotten things going with a clever grubber, which he regathered to score. The Sharks' sole response in the first half was a penalty from the boot of Lionel Cronjé.

The Sharks gained a foothold in the beginning of the second half as Ackermann wrung the changes for the hosts. Lwazi Mvovo went over in the corner to give the visitors some hope, but they were never able to build any sort of pressure. In their quest for tries the game got a bit loose and the Lions made them pay with a try of their own through Armand van der Merwe.

Two further Sharks tries by Tera Mtembu and SP Marais gave the scoreline a level of respectability for the visitors, but they were never likely to overturn the massive deficit.

The Lions weren't done, and there was still time for them to make it to the half-century, capping off the performance with another stunning counter-attacking try. It was a massive statement and if they can reproduce this showing of pace and power, they'll be difficult to stop in next weekend's final.

Golden Lions – Tries: Howard Mnisi, Jaco Kriel, Ross Cronjé, Armand van der Merwe, Ruan Combrinck, Warren Whiteley. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (4). Penalties: Boshoff (4).
Sharks – Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, Tera Mtembu, SP Marais. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty: Lionel Cronjé.

Golden Lions – 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Mark Richards, 22 Harold Vorster.

Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu (c), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 JC Astle, 20 Khaya Majola, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images