Johannesburg – The Golden Lions scored a half-century to dispose of Russia with a 51-13 victory in their inaugural Lions Challenge match at Ellis Park on Saturday evening.
Flyhalf Lionel Cronje got the Lions on the scoreboard with two penalty conversions early in the match.
The Russians, however, clawed their way back, as they showed some control at the contact point with their heavy forwards, making two strong attempts at the line but failing to finish off.
The Lions finally pierced Russia’s defence with winger Deon Helberg swerving his way through to score the their first five-pointer of the night in the 22nd minute, with Cronje converting.
While the wet weather seemed to dampen any hopes of a free-flowing match, play did flow as the game progressed.
It was clear from the outset that the Bears favoured a tighter match by keeping the ball among the forwards, with little confidence shown in their backline play.
As expected from the first match of the season, the Lions, with a crop of new and young players, were a bit rusty.
Russia got their first points on the board when fullback Igor Klyunchnikov succeeded with a penalty kick to take the scores to 13-3 in the 38th minute.
The Lions, however, had the last word of the first half as referee Lourens van der Merwe awarded a penalty try against the visitors for an infringement from a scrum five metres from their tryline. Cronje converted to extend their half-time lead to 20-3.
Russia got the second period off to a good start with Klyunchnikov adding another three points to their tally through a penalty conversion.
They were dealt another blow, however, when Van der Merwe showed hooker Valeriy Tsnobiladze a yellow card.
Shortly after Tsnobiladze’s departure, the referee once again awarded the Lions a penalty try for a Russian infraction at scrum time, with Cronje converting.
The visitors finally crossed the whitewash with Alexy Makovetskiy scoring after following up on a kick, due to some handling mistakes from the Lions, and Klyunchnikov converted.
But the hosts took the match away as they scored three more tries within 15 minutes to secure a 33-point lead with 10 minutes remaining.
Lock Hendrik Roodt, flanker Warwick Tecklenburg and flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff each had a turn to score a try.
On the fulltime whistle, Ruhan Nel added another five-pointer to bring up the home side's half-century.
The Lions Challenge comes in the wake of the Johannesburg franchise's relegation from this year’s Super Rugby competition.
The challenge will culminate in promotion/relegation matches against the SA team that finishes last in the country’s Super Rugby conference.
Lions 51 (20): Tries: Deon Hellberg, Penalty try (2), Hendrik Roodt, Warwick Tecklenburg, Marnitz Boshoff, Ruhan Nel. Penalties: Lionel Cronje (2). Conversions: Cronje (4), Marnitz Boshoff.
Russia 13 (3): Try: Alexy Makovetskiy. Conversion: Igor Klyunchnikov. Penalties: Makovetskiy (2). – Sapa