The Lions beat the Stormers 29-22 at Ellis Park on Saturday to confirm their status as South Africa's leading Super Rugby side. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Lions have made yet another statement in what is turning out to be a memorable 2016 campaign. After claiming a first victory against the Chiefs in Hamilton earlier in the season, and after securing a first ever win against the Sharks at Kings Park, they've now emerged from a crunch derby against the leaders of the Africa 1 conference with four log points.
Despite the defeat, the Stormers continue to lead the overall South African group. The Cape side did enough in this match to secure a losing bonus point.
However, few can argue that the Lions deserved to win this contest. What's more, Johan Ackermann's side now boasts a three from three record against South African opposition in 2016. They may well lay claim to the unofficial title of South Africa's best.
The game unfolded as many expected it would. The Stormers' defence was outstanding for the most part. The visitors did well to pressure the Lions at the rucks, and to limit the attacking space of the Lions' halfbacks.
Indeed, for 35 minutes of the first half, only Elton Jantjies and Jean-Luc du Plessis managed to get on to the scoresheet. Jantjies kicked three penalty goals, while the 21-year-old Du Plessis, in his first Super Rugby start at Ellis Park, showed good temperament to slot four.
The Stormers defence targeted Jantjies whenever the Lions flyhalf received the ball. For a time, the tactic worked. It forced Jantjies to retreat into the pocket and play behind the gainline.
But the form South African flyhalf of the 2016 Super Rugby tournament could not be contained for long. Jantjies obliged with two game-breaking touches in the 35th minute.
A well-judged chip kick by the No 10 over the advancing Stormers defence was regathered by Rohan Janse van Rensburg. In the subsequent phase, Jantjies threw a beautiful long pass to an unmarked Ruan Combrinck on the right wing. Combrinck finished in the corner.
The Lions went into the break with a slender 16-12 lead. That deficit was reduced when Du Plessis kicked his fifth penalty goal in the 55th minute.
A change at scrumhalf had the desired effect for the hosts. After winning a penalty deep in Stormers territory, the Lions turned down the shot at goal. Replacement scrumhalf Faf de Klerk took the quick tap, and exposed some tired defence. Jantjies's subsequent conversion earned the Lions an important eight-point lead.
Siya Kolisi rounded off an enterprising move by the Stormers only moments later, but it was to no avail. The Lions finished the game strongly, with Jantjies nailing another penalty and then a drop goal.
The Lions flyhalf finished the evening with 15 points. In the process, he went past 500 points in his Super Rugby career.
The Stormers did enough to finish with a losing bonus point. They could not, however, breach the Lions defence at the last.
Lions – Tries: Ruan Combrinck, Faf de Klerk. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (4). Drop goal: Jantjies.
Stormers – Try: Siya Kolisi. Conversion: Jean-Luc du Plessis. Penalties: Du Plessis (5).
Lions – 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Andries Coetzee.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe (c), 19 Rynhardt Elstadt, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Damian de Allende, 23 Huw Jones.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images