The Lions beat the Blues 39-36 at Ellis Park despite being outscored by five tries to three, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Having led 23-3 after 53 minutes, the Lions saw their lead cut to just one point with 10 minutes to go. Another two penalties from Marnitz Boshoff, who finished with a 24-point haul, appeared to make the game safe, but a fifth try from the visitors set up a tense finish. Fortunately for the hosts, they were able to hang on and secure their first win against international opposition this season.
The first 34 minutes were scoreless but entertaining as both sides showed a willingness to keep the ball in hand. The physicality of the match was evident by Frank Halai's bouncing off of Courtnall Skosan, while the Lions pack made a statement when they shoved the Blues off their own ball.
Boshoff missed an early penalty (only his second miss of the season) and when the Lions were awarded another kickable penalty on the half-hour mark, the flyhalf was told to put it into touch. The Lions drove forward from the lineout only for Charlie Faumuina to collapse the maul and be yellow-carded. Piri Weepu then denied the hosts following a second maul and when they were awarded another penalty shortly afterwards, the referee must have been thinking of a penalty try. But the Lions opted for a 5m scrum, which they totally dominated, and Faf de Klerk darted over from the ruck.
Boshoff kicked the conversion and then slotted a drop goal from just outside the Blues 22.
The Lions struck an important blow in the last move of the half when they tapped a penalty and sent it wide to Skosan, who cut back inside to score a try that made it 17-0.
Boshoff landed another drop goal early in the second half, before exchanging penalties with Chris Noakes, who finally got the Blues on the board.
The visitors then scored two tries in the space of three minutes at the end of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 10. First, Noakes threw a long skip pass to Piutau, who scored in the left-hand corner. Then, they counter-attacked from deep inside their half, Piutau kicked ahead and regathered before offloading to Bryn Hall, who scored with his first touch of the game.
But the Lions responded with a try that made it 30-15. Jaco Kriel broke away down the left-hand touchline and offloaded to Warren Whiteley, who put Deon van Rensburg away, only for Piutau to knock the ball out of the centre's hand in the deadball area. The TMO correctly ruled that it was not a knock on and awarded a try to Coenie van Wyk, who had dived on the loose ball.
The Blues, though, made it a one-point game with another two tries, from Frank Halai and George Moala.
The Lions almost scored their fourth try, but Ruan Combrinck was unable to collect Boshoff's cross-kick close to the line. But Boshoff kicked a penalty and then added another.
However, the Blues still weren't done, and Benji Marshall went over in the 80th minute.
There was still time for the visitors to attack again from the kick-off, but they ended up throwing wild passes behind their tryline and the ball went dead, much to the Lions' relief.
Lions – Tries: Faf de Klerk, Courtnall Skosan, Coenie van Wyk. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (3). Penalties: Boshoff (4). Drop goals: Boshoff (2).
Blues – Tries: Charles Piutau, Bryn Hall, Frank Halai, George Moala, Benji Marshall. Conversions: Chris Noakes (2), Simon Hickey (2). Penalty: Noakes.
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 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Blues – 15 Benji Marshall, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu , 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Brendon O'Connor, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Sam Prattley, 18, Angus Ta'avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Jordan Manihera, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Jackson Willison.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images