Johannesburg – The Lions' gritty defence in the opening exchanges lay the foundation for their 39-36 victory over the Blues at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday, coach Johann Ackermann said after the match.
“The first-half defence was excellent because for the first 10 minutes we were not once in their half,” Ackermann said.
“To keep them out for that long and to show that composure conceding no penalties and no points was good.
“In the second half we started to see our set pieces reap rewards. A big part of our success today was our set-pieces.”
The hosts scored the only points of the first half as they went into the half-time break with a 17-0 advantage over the visitors.
Handling errors by the Blues and two yellow cards either side of the recess against the New Zealanders also played into the Lions' hands.
The Blues, however, launched an impressive fight back in the second half, amassing 36 points which included five tries.
The Lions, nevertheless, held on for their third victory of the season out of five games and are in fourth place on the overall Super Rugby log on 12 points, six adrift of the table-topping Sharks.
The Johannesburg-based franchise came painstakingly close to taking the full complement of points out of the match, but they were denied their fourth try on a few occasions.
Ackermann would, however, not be too disappointed by not claiming the extra point as the victory would instil the belief in his charges that they were capable of beating quality opposition.
“At the end of the day, the guys showed character and pulled it off, it was too close for comfort but I will take it,” he said.
Flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff again starred for the Lions as his deft kicking kept the scoreboard ticking over, while he also relieved the pressure through pin-point tactical kicking.
He contributed 24 of his side's points with three conversions, four penalties and two drop goals.
Ackermann said the in-form flyhalf had a positive influence on the rest of the players as they fed off his self-belief.
“His confidence is high, his decision-making is good – when to kick into the corner, when to run and when to go for the drop goal,” Ackermann said.
“It is great when a player is that confident. It also gives confidence to the team.”
Lions captain Warren Whiteley said winning their first encounter against a foreign franchise after they face South African teams in the first four weeks would be a major confidence boost to the Super Rugby debutants.
“We can learn a lot from our second half when we let them in, but I am definitely happy with the character,” he said.
“That first half performance was outstanding. We absorbed the pressure really well and kept them out... it ultimately set us up for the win.”
Blues coach John Kirwan conceded that the Lions were deserved winners despite a controversial try being awarded to the hosts three quarters into the match.
On route to the tryline it appeared as if a Blues player knocked the ball out of Deon van Rensburg's hands. The ball spilled over the goal area with Coenie van Wyk falling on the loose ball for the try.
The match referee initially referred to the Television Match Official (TMO) when it was unclear whether the Van Rensburg knocked the ball on and whether it was the Blues player that knocked it out of his hands before the try was given.
“We probably didn't deserve to win because we made too many mistakes in the first half and the (first) yellow card was a two-try affair so we came into the second half under the pump,” Kirwan said.
“I'll be asking Lyndon (Sanzar's head of referees) about the TMO decision. That was a bit of a tough one at a critical moment so we will have to have a look at it.
“I thought the Lions deserved to win in the end. I thought we could have stolen it but we have to give ourselves a better chance.” – Sapa