Unbeaten Lions lift Currie Cup

Ross Cronjé scored a brace of tries as the Golden Lions clinched the Currie Cup with a 32-24 win over Western Province at Ellis Park. CRAIG LEWIS reports.

The Lions have completed the perfect season, going through all 12 matches unbeaten to most deservedly be crowned Currie Cup champs. Not since the Sharks side of 1996 has a team achieved this, but the Lions’ class of 2015 can now proudly lay claim to a new piece of unforgettable history carved out on their hallowed ground of Ellis Park.

This is the 11th occasion that the Lions have lifted the Currie Cup, and the first time since 2011, but this campaign will undoubtedly go down as one of their best ever.

The Lions have literally been unbeatable all season, and again on Saturday afternoon they were brave and brilliant in equal measure. Continuing to play it fast and loose, the home team were often mesmerising with ball in hand, while they were busy at the breakdown and disciplined on defence.

Western Province launched a brave second-half fightback, but they were never within more than eight points of the Lions.

On a hot and breezy day in Joburg, a crowd of 44,183 turned up at Ellis Park, and the Lions fans found their considerable voice as early as the second minute when the home team launched a typically ferocious attack, although it would ultimately come to naught.

Flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff uncharacteristically sprayed two penalty kicks wide in the opening 10 minutes, the first of which was from a relatively simple position. However, a lovely break from centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg set up the opening try in the 14th minute, which was well finished by No 8 Warren Whiteley, and finally provided reward for the Lions’ early ascendancy.

The Lions had promised a continued ambitious approach during the week, and a beautiful attacking movement again paid dividends when Cronjé was put away for the simplest of tries on the quarter-hour mark.

After turning down two kicks at goal in quick succession, Western Province finally turned to pivot Rob du Preez, who slotted a 27th-minute penalty to open the visitors’ account, although the nervy youngster then missed a second shot at posts not long after.

The Lions struck another blow six minutes before half-time when Cronjé – who has really made massive strides in recent times – showed impressive strength to bustle over for the hosts’ third try and open up a commanding 19-3 lead, which Boshoff quickly extended by three.

Province would have the final say of the half, though, with Du Preez breaking through the defence to score under the posts to make it 22-10 and somewhat make up for his jittery first half.

While that score might have given WP a brief glimpse of hope, the Lions cancelled out that try almost immediately after the restart when Van Rensburg dotted down for the Lions’ 60th try of the season.

Nizaam Carr would score Province’s second try just moments later, but Boshoff kicked a crucial penalty just before the hour mark as the Lions opened up a 15-point buffer.

It meant even when WP flank Sikhumbuzo Notshe scored from the back of a driving maul in the 62nd minute, the Lions still remained out of range.

There were some real nervy moments during the dying stages, with Province having certainly won the second-half battle, but the Lions were not to be denied.

A yellow card to WP replacement Chris van Zyl, which reversed a penalty the visitors had won late in the game, sealed the deal, and the Lions celebrated a historic success. Kudos to them.

Golden Lions – Tries: Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronjé (2), Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Conversion: Marnitz Boshoff (3). Penalties: Boshoff (2).
Western Province – Tries: Rob du Preez, Nizaam Carr, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversions: Du Preez (2), Kurt Coleman. Penalty: Du Preez.

Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Steph de Witt, 20 Jaco van der Walt, 21 Stokkies Hanekom, 22 Sampie Mastriet.

Western Province – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c) 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Chris van Zyl, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Kurt Coleman, 22 Huw Jones.

Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

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Craig Lewis