Ryan Crotty scored a hat-trick of tries as the Crusaders clinched a 43-37 win over the Lions at Ellis Park on Friday night. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
There was certainly no shortage of entertainment in this captivating clash, with both like-minded sides displaying their willingness to keep ball in hand, while often producing an offloading masterclass.
Ultimately, though, the Crusaders once again proved their supreme class as they scored six fantastic tries to finish their South African trip on an impressive note. For the Lions, a losing bonus point will be their only consolation.
Although the Johannesburg-based side undoubtedly played their part in an enthralling contest, they simply made too many basic errors, while their defence wasn't up to standard and the Saders duly made them pay.
The Lions trailed by just two points at half-time, but their first-time tackling had let them down in the opening stanza, while the composed Crusaders displayed their lethal ability on the counter-attack.
Those two factors again came to the fore early in the second half as Crotty first took advantage of some poor Lions defence to canter over for a try, and then finished off a superb counter-attack that originated from a poor clearance kick just moments later.
Having scored with his first touch of the game, Crotty suddenly had a hat-trick, while the Crusaders finally had some breathing room courtesy of a 36-20 lead.
And while Lions replacement Akker van der Merwe scored a fantastic breakaway try in the 64th minute to briefly draw the hosts back into the game, the Crusaders again hit back in some style as some superb handling enabled Mitchell Drummond to ghost over for the team’s sixth try.
Yet, if the Lions had been looking for an impact off their bench, Van der Merwe surely provided that as he added another try to an incredible cameo when he burst over to score in the 71st minute and again cut the deficit to just nine points.
In the end there was just too much to do, and despite a late surge from the Lions, they had to settle for a last-minute penalty from Elton Jantjies to claim at least a losing bonus point.
The high-scoring nature of the match was set in motion within the first minute as Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo put Crotty away for an early try, while the Lions responded almost immediately when Lionel Mapoe finished off a beautiful movement of their own.
However, the Crusaders continued to thrive off Lions' errors and the pressure created through their impressive defence, with winger Johnny McNicholl first cantering away for an intercept try before prop Wyatt Crockett barged over to put the visitors 19-10 ahead after a quarter of an hour.
Nevertheless, the Lions continued with their fearless approach, and after repeatedly opting to kick penalties to the corner, Jantjies showed great strength to finish off a try in the corner, while he slotted a long-range penalty soon after to put the hosts into a 20-19 lead.
The Crusaders would have the last say of a highly entertaining first half, though, with flyhalf Richie Mo'unga edging them into a two-point lead. It was a lead that they would never relinquish in an impressive second stanza where they outscored the hosts 21-17.
Lions – Tries: Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies, Akker van der Merwe (2). Conversions: Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (3).
Crusaders – Tries: Ryan Crotty (3), Johnny McNicholl, Wyatt Crockett, Mitchell Drummond. Conversions: Richie Mo'unga (5). Penalty: Mo'unga.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira/Lourens Erasmus, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Sean Wainui.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images