A late penalty by replacement fly half Shaun Reynolds – the only one in the game – helped the Lions squeak past a grimly determined New South Wales Waratahs team in an enthralling, if error-riddled, Super Rugby game at Ellis Park yesterday evening.
With coach Swys de Bruin and skipper Warren Whiteley back in the saddle, the Lions, coming off a bye, were as rusty as the Waratahs were unlucky in bagging a win that lifted them from bottom of the South African Conference to third (eighth on the overall log).
The game itself was a touch on the loose side for purists, but both teams scored four tries before Reynolds’ 68th-minute penalty separated them by a point, with referee Egon Seconds’ officiating appearing to favour the hosts in the second half.
There was a missed forward pass in the build-up to winger Courtnall Skosan’s try in the 43rd minute, a slew of left-field calls when lock Marvin Orie appeared to play the ball from the visiting team’s side and some baffling rolling maul calls as the Lions sought to use the line-out drive to close out the game.
There was a tit-for-tat feel to how the two sides began the game, a pattern that would remain for the rest of the first half as each team scored almost immediately after the other did. To that end, the first two tries scored by both sides – in a half in which they ended up with three apiece – had their origins from exactly the same faults.
The Waratahs’ first two tries, scored by scrum half Nick Phipps and captain and flanker Michael Hooper, came from the Lions’ age-old tendency to be cute instead of booting the ball into touch.
Phipps’ try was the result of opposite number Ross Cronjé’s box kick falling into visiting hands and being recycled to the try scorer, while Hooper’s was courtesy of fly half Elton Jantjies attempting a chip kick exit also fielded by the Waratahs.
For their part, the Sydneysiders initially struggled with their line-out drive defence, which at the time rewarded the Lions with two Aphiwe Dyantyi and Stephan Lewies tries.
Although Orie and Carlü Sadie might have had the defensive spotlight on them for lock Rob Simmons’ try, the big man did take a wonderful angle before brushing Jantjies aside to score.
The Lions’ next try owed its existence to a dummy and feint-laden run by inside centre Harold Vorster, who rounded it off with a beautifully weighted grubber kick for Kwagga Smith to score.
With both teams past masters at keeping the ball alive, running good support lines and offloading (the main orchestrators of this were Vorster and Kurtley Beale), the first two tries, by Skosan and Tom Staniforth, in the second half were the direct result.
Crucially, the visitors – having played at Loftus Versfeld last weekend – looked to have acclimatised to the altitude, and sought to ramp up the tempo on the Lions and were stressing them to creaking point.
Alas, they couldn’t crawl over the line. – City Press correspondent