Courtnall Skosan scored a controversial try in the 78th minute to hand the Lions a 23-20 win against the Reds at Ellis Park, reports JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions deserve credit for their fightback in the second stanza. They came back from a 20-6 half-time deficit to beat a team stacked with Wallabies. That takes no small measure of skill and character.
That's not to say, however, that they didn't have their fair share of luck. Referee Stuart Berry sent two Reds players to the sin bin in the final 10 minutes, to leave the visitors' defence depleted. There was also no clear evidence from television replays that Skosan had grounded the ball for his try, and it seemed if the lineout feed in the build-up was not straight.
But while the Lions were lucky, they certainly had ample opportunity to close out this contest. They were the better side in the second half, and may have taken a lead earlier had captain Warren Whiteley allowed the form goal-kicker in South Africa, Marnitz Boshoff, to shoot for the posts.
The Reds will be miffed with the officiating at the death, but they should also be disappointed in their own performance. So dominant in the opening 40, they lacked intensity in the final stages.
The Wallabies halfback pairing of Will Genia and Cooper is the most dangerous combination in world rugby, not only because of their running and passing strengths but due to their exemplary tactical kicking and game management.
The Reds played the percentages during the initial stages of this contest, and succeeded in playing the game deep in Lions’ territory. They were clinical without being too flashy, and were full value for their substantial 20-6 half-time lead.
Cooper was in top form, and made the Lions pay for some poor defence. While the hosts troubled the Reds at scrum time, they were too standoffish at the tackle. They were guilty of allowing men like Cooper and Genia space to run, a tactic that has cost far better teams than the modest outfit from Johannesburg.
Boshoff was in typically accurate kicking form for the Lions, but unfortunately had very few opportunities to go for goal in the first half. The Lions also played into the Reds’ hands by attempting to play too much rugby from deep within their 22. It was a counterproductive brand more typical of the Lions of 2012 than the more competitive side of 2014.
The Lions changed tactics in the second half, playing a tighter, territory-based game. They had the Reds defence stretched, but Whiteley turned down several goalable penalties, preferring to kick to touch and set the lineout. They would eventually penetrate the Reds' wall in the 66th minute when centre Lionel Mapoe scored. Boshoff slotted the conversion to reduce the deficit to four points.
Reserve hooker James Hanson was yellow-carded for a breakdown transgression in the 70th minute, which effectively left the Reds to finish the game with 14 men. Somehow the visitors managed to deny the Lions again and again, effecting some telling ruck turnovers in their own 22.
Berry decided that they had done this illegally, however, and proceeded to send another Reds player, No 8 Jake Schatz, to the sin bin in the 73rd minute. The Lions would turn down another shot at goal, this time opting to scrum against the short-handed Reds.
It was an option that didn't yield the desired result, although the Lions would win another penalty and kick it touch. The feed from hooker Willie Wepener looked to be skew, but Berry waved play on and allowed the movement to continue.
Berry and the TMO Johan Greef determined that Skosan had grounded the ball for a try, and Boshoff's ensuing conversion took the Lions out to a 23-20 lead.
The result is a great one for the Lions, who have now picked up back to back victories against overseas opposition.
Lions – Tries: Quade Cooper (2): Conversions: Cooper (2). Penalties: Cooper (2).
Reds – Tries: Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (2). Penalties: Boshoff (3).
Lions – 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Mark Pretorius, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Stephan de Wit, 21. Ross Cronjé, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Ruan Combrinck
Reds – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga'a 23 Dom Shipperley
Photo: Gallo Images