Courageous defence gave the Lions a 9-3 victory against the Crusaders at Ellis Park in 2007, recalls SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Crusaders had never beaten the Lions by more than nine points in Joburg, and their frustration continued here. The defending champions – without their top All Blacks, who were being rested ahead of the World Cup – had all the ball and created a dozen try-scoring opportunties. However, outstanding tackling and three penalties from Louis Strydom gave the Lions their first win against the Crusaders since 2000.
A lot of credit had to go to the Lions’ pack. The scrum battle was convincingly won by the home side, whose tight five had just 18 Super Rugby caps between them. Campbell Johnstone was given an early working over by Heinke van der Merwe, with the Crusaders loosehead penalised for scrumming in. A few minutes later, the Lions shoved the Crusaders off their own ball, forcing the turnover, before illegal binding allowed Strydom to open the scoring with a penalty. The only time the visitors got one over the Lions up front was when Brian Mujati stupidly pushed down on Ben Franks’ head. That indiscipline gave the New Zealanders their only points of the game.
The Crusaders had plenty of possession in the first half, but lacked the finishing touches. Their best chance came when Rico Gear broke away and was brought to ground by a try-saving tackle from Jannie Boshoff. Instead of waiting for support, Gear threw a 50-50 pass that was intercepted by Jaco van Schalkwyk.
The Lions had one clear-cut try-scoring opportunity when Jano Vermaak split the defence, but Louis Ludik overran the ball-carrier and the pass went forward. While always willing to give the ball air, too often the Lions were guilty of running across field and allowing the Crusaders to shepherd them towards the touchline.
The Lions’ defensive effort was summed up by a passage of play early in the second half. The Crusaders took the ball through nine phases and unsuccessfully tried to bash their way over with their forwards. When they finally resorted to their backs, Stephen Brett knocked on.
The Crusaders were unlucky to have a try disallowed when Rua Tipoki’s pass to Casey Laulala was called forward after yet another sustained attack. It was one of a few close calls that went against them.
Leading by six points with 10 minutes remaining, the Lions should have scored when Pretorius broke away down the right-hand touchline. However, the centre delayed his pass for a second too long and Wylie Human was bundled out just before the corner flag.
A minute later, the Lions were awarded a penalty in a kickable position, but instead of purposely knocking on and taking the three points, they went for the try. Possession was lost, advantage was ruled over, and the Crusaders worked their way back into Lions’ territory.
However, as had been the case all night, basic errors and poor decision-making prevented the visitors from snatching what would have been an undeserved victory.
The Lions, though, couldn't build on this win, finishing 12th on the final Super 14 log. The Crusaders came third, before being beaten 27-12 by the Bulls in the Loftus semi-final.
Lions – Penalties: Louis Strydom (3).
Crusaders – Penalty: Stephen Brett.
Lions – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Jaque Fourie, 11 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 10 Louis Strydom, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Ernst Joubert (c), 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Cobus Grobler, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Bertus Smit, 18 Gordon Gilfillan, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Wylie Human, 22 Earl Rose.
Crusaders – 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Rua Tipoki, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Johnny Leo'o, 6 Kieran Read, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn (c), 1 Ben Franks.
Subs: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Ben May, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Jake Paringatai, 20 Kevin Senio, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Brent Ward.
Photo: Gallo Images