The Lions kept their play-off hopes alive with a thrilling 27-22 victory over the Waratahs at Ellis Park on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The Lions will be more than a little relieved. They should have closed the game out easily. Elton Jantjies missed three second-half penalties, while their search for an all-important bonus-point try went a-begging. The Waratahs might've snatched it at the death, but that would've been harsh on the Lions, who were the better side for much of the 80 minutes.
They knew it was imperative that they didn't give the visitors a head start, for a champion side like the Waratahs wouldn't allow them back into the match. They led 17-10 at the break and extended that to 27-10 midway through the second half before the Waratahs fought their way back into the match.
The Wararahs arrived in South Africa on the back of a win over the Crusaders knowing victory would lift them to the top of the Australian conference and, more importantly, above the Stormers into second place. However, they came up against a Lions side intent on putting them under pressure from the outset.
A thunderous run by Jaco Kriel showed the Lions' intentions early on, with the hosts giving the ball plenty of air. The pressure eventually told as Elton Jantjies floated a wonderful ball out wide for Ruan Combrinck to cross for the first try of the match.
The Waratahs soon found their rhythm after the Lions made a couple unforced errors with first Andries Coetzee and then Jantjies kicking the ball directly into touch. The visitors made good use of the territory, with Stephen Hoiles going in for a try following a Bernard Foley penalty.
However, in their efforts to front up to the Lions physically, the Waratahs overstepped the mark with Rob Horne seeing yellow for a tip-tackle on Lionel Mapoe. His indiscretion would cost his side 10 points as Jantjies slotted a penalty before Combrinck went over for his second try with the Waratahs struggling for defenders out wide.
The Waratahs struggled to match the Lions in the physical exchanges during the opening half, and coach Michael Cheika decided to introduce Jacques Potgieter at half-time in a bid to combat this. His ploy backfired and the South African was sent to the bin for a late hit on Warren Whiteley.
As they had done in the first half, the Lions made the visitors pay, with Harold Vorster going over for a try following more good work by the impressive Combrinck. The Waratahs hit back with a try of their own through Adam Ashley-Cooper, but were unable to put the hosts under the necessary pressure to snatch the victory.
Instead it was the Lions who went in search of the bonus-point try that would've moved them level on points with the Waratahs. In the end they had to settle for the four log points, which leaves it with all to play for at Newlands next week.
Lions – Tries: Ruan Combrinck (2), Harold Vorster. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Waratahs – Tries: Stephen Hoiles, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne. Conversions: Bernard Foley (2). Penalty: Foley.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Stokkies Hanekom.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Sekope Kepu. 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 David Porecki, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Dean Mumm, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images