Not too many people would have backed the Lions to beat the Blues, but then not too many people would’ve believed that after five rounds of this year’s Super Rugby season the Lions would be fourth on the points table.
It’s been a quite remarkable return to the competition for the men from Joburg, with their win over the Blues on Saturday highlighting the fact that nothing is predictable in Super Rugby this year. Also, the victory by Johan Ackermann’s men is a clear indication the Lions are not a team to be written off anymore.
After suffering back-to-back defeats to the Bulls and Sharks, the Lions hit back in style by downing the star-studded Blues at Ellis Park on Saturday for their third win in five games. It was a result that would have made several other teams in the competition sit up and take notice, particularly the Reds, who visit Ellis Park this weekend.
The Lions may have conceded 36 second half points, but they kept the Blues scoreless in the first 40 minutes thanks to their gutsy defensive effort and led handsomely 17-0 at the break. And then, in the second half, they did enough to just edge their visitors on the scoreboard, with flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff again the big hero in contributing 24 points with the boot.
Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said the victory would stand the team in good stead going forward.
“It’s nice for the guys, winning your first game against international opposition. It will be a big boost for the confidence of the players, many of whom are in their first season of Super Rugby and who wouldn’t have faced these guys before,” said Whiteley.
He said his team’s strong defensive showing in the first half had paved the way for the victory.
“We absorbed plenty of pressure and I thought the defence was outstanding and set us up for the win.
“We backed our structure and maintained good discipline, a lack of which has cost us at times this year, and we knew that once we got out of our half we could apply the pressure on them.”
That’s exactly what the Lions did, scoring two quick tries before the break and giving themselves a chance of closing out the game in the second period. Coach Ackermann was again pleased with the character and guts shown.
“Our set-pieces were good and our defence in the first-half stood up well,” he said.
“We knew that once the game got loose, as it did in the second half, they’d come hard at us. But the character we showed to keep chipping away at the scoreboard was excellent.”
Ackermann admitted he was concerned about leaking five second half tries, but added: “That had nothing to do with our structure ... it was more a case of individuals missing tackles and that’s something they must take responsibility for.”
If the Lions have surprised friend and foe this season, the Sharks have shown they’re among the favourites to go all the way. Along with the Chiefs, they’re one of only two unbeaten teams in the competition after their 35-20 win over the Reds in Durban.
They may not have picked up a four-try bonus point, like the Lions, but, also like the Lions, their accurate goal-kicking played a key role in their triumph. This week they’re at Loftus to take on the Bulls.
The Cheetahs and Stormers both lost at the weekend – the men from Bloemfontein mainly because of poor defence; the Capetonians due to a lack of killer instinct. It appears this season’s competition is going to be a tough one for two of last year’s frontrunners.
Sharks 35, Reds 20; Lions 39, Blues 36; Brumbies 28, Waratahs 23; Highlanders 29, Force 31; Hurricanes 60, Cheetahs 27; Rebels 19, Crusaders 25; Chiefs 36, Stormers 20
Friday: Highlanders v Hurricanes; Waratahs v Rebels
Saturday: Blues v Cheetahs; Brumbies v Stormers; Force v Chiefs; Lions v Reds; Bulls v Sharks - The Star