If Johan Ackermann were Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, the leader of the A-Team, he would have used the catchphrase “I love it when a plan comes together” on Saturday night. Because that’s exactly what happened as the Lions shocked the Super Rugby competition by beating the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
And the hero, perhaps one of Hannibal’s team members, was flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff. The very under-rated No10 led the Lions’ charge in their first game back in Super Rugby after missing out last year to the Southern Kings. Not only did Boshoff slot six penalties, but a big drop-goal late in the game in a flawless kicking display, to give the Lions a surprise first-up win this year.
Ackermann said after the 21-20 victory he and Boshoff had talked about such a scenario in the days leading up to the match.
“We discussed what we’d do if we needed two or three points to win the game late on. We practiced the drop-goal at training, in case such a situation presented itself, and Bossie slotted every one. It’s quite funny that it’s exactly how things turned out in Bloemfontein. He’d practiced it on the training ground and he had the confidence to go for it when it mattered, and that’s brilliant. That’s how I want my players to play ... with confidence.”
Boshoff’s 80th-minute strike stunned the Cheetahs, their fans and the watching world. Not too many people would have thought the Lions, with so little Super Rugby experience, would go to Bloemfontein and beat last year’s surprise package, who went all the way to the play-offs.
“It’s wonderful,” said Ackermann. “I really couldn’t have asked for a better start to the competition. Missing out last year was tough for all of us and I told the guys they now have an opportunity to make it right. They worked very hard in the off-season and now they know what they’re capable of.
“We might not have the experience or the big-name stars, but we’ve got players who’ll fight for what they want, players with character.”
The Cheetahs outscored the Lions two tries to nil, but in every other department the young visitors to Bloemfontein matched their hosts. Even in the scrums where the rookie front row of Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe matched the highly rated Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss and Caylib Oosthuizen, and Trevor Nyakane later on. The Lions’ line-out also worked like clockwork, while there was little to choose between the teams at the breakdowns.
Ackermann says the victory will boost the players’ confidence going forward. “The guys now realise that if they work hard and play for each other anything is possible. We can now look forward to springing a few more surprises.
“But on Monday this victory will be forgotten. This is one hell of a tough competition and one’s got to work hard every day for a number of weeks. That’s what we’ll now do.”
One victory, against a team the Lions’ have had the better of in this competition over the years, certainly doesn’t mean Ackermann and Co are all of a sudden going to become conference challengers, but it does show there is life in Lions rugby, even if there aren’t too many household names in the squad.
And, the Cheetahs will be smarting after probably under-estimating their opponents, even if they don’t fully admit it. And, as Ackermann has pointed out, this is just round one.
This weekend, the Lions host the Stormers, in their first game after sitting out round one, while the Cheetahs entertain the Bulls, who’ll be hurting after being walloped by the Sharks. - The Star