A late try by winger Courtnall Skosan settled a ding-dong try festival in the favour of the Lions as they downed the Highlanders 38-29 in their Vodacom Super Rugby match yesterday.
Skosan’s try was a thing of beauty as the score was delicately poised at 31-29 in favour of the home side. Instead of winding down the clock, the Lions launched a stunning attack that drove the stake into the heart of their opponents and denied them a bonus point.
It was the type of confidence that we don’t often see in a South African side – first their scrum wobbled, then came back resolutely to power forward and give replacement halfback Nic Groom quality ball.
Drifting outside, Lionel Mapoe looked to be scragged, but he shook off Matt Faddes to open the space before unleashing the pace of Aphiwe Dyantyi to blister down the far touchline, before the final pass inside to Skosan killed off the Highlanders’ challenge and reminded the rest of the competition that the three-time finalists are far from a done deal in the competition.
In truth, the Lions should have wrapped up the game earlier as they dominated territory and possession, but mistakes and the cunning ability of the New Zealanders to turn mistakes into points kept them very much in the game, so much so that they had more than one opportunity to steal it.
The 10-try match was an entertaining affair and credit to the Lions for standing toe-to-toe with the Highlanders, not backing down when the pace got fast and backing themselves to see out a game that could have gone against them.
Questions were asked about their ability without inspirational captain Warren Whiteley, but in the performances of Kwagga Smith, Marnus Schoeman and Cyle Brink in the loose, as well as Marvin Orie and Malcolm Marx up front, the Lions showed that they were more than willing to take on any team.
They found themselves down early on as the brilliance of All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith came in to play on attack, drawing one defender before letting the ball go to the wings for Patelesio Tomkinson to cross over in the corner with ease.
But the Lions give as good as they get and a power run by Smith down the sideline and good work on his inside gave Andries Coetzee the first reply to cross the try line and put his side on the board.
A great inside ball from Tom Franklin released Tomkinson upfield, with Franklin receiving the supporting run 5m out to put his side back in the lead.
The Highlanders were lucky to not be yellow carded , with Franklin deliberately knocking down a pass from Elton Jantjies to Smith, only for the Lions to pick up the ball and pass it back to Smith, who ran in under the posts.
The home side knew they had a battle on their hands and got an immediate boost early in the second half as they completed 16 phases of attack to win a penalty, and Smith picked up and dove head-first to plant the ball on the line.
Skosan’s try, which underlined the Lions’ attacking class, came after a few ups and downs that saw the visitors grabbing a short-lived lead. But the Lions regained it and moved into sixth spot on the log, reminding the rest just how much of an attacking threat they can be.