The Lions have scored some spectacular tries this season – and they did so again on Friday through Kwagga Smith – but it was their stunning defensive effort that ensured them their third straight win on tour of Australia as they downed the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.
It was a forgettable performance by Johan Ackermann and his charges, but they got the job done against a plucky and disruptive Brumbies outfit – their eighth win in a row and their 10th overall this season. They return home on Sunday having picked up 14 points on tour, thanks to the four points earned against the Brumbies and the five each from wins against the Force and Rebels.
Ackermann’s men enjoyed only 43% of the possession in Canberra and they were outplayed in most departments, but they tackled brilliantly, won some crucial turn-overs and scored the only try of the match – which was the clincher.
The home team dominated in areas like number of ball-carries (113-68), defenders beaten (16-9), clean-breaks (5-2), and number of passes (158-75), but the Lions did everything asked of them in defence to keep their opponents out. They pulled off 136 tackles (and missed 16), while the Brumbies were asked to make just 88, nine of which they missed – an indication of how much on the back-foot and under pressure the Lions were for the majority of the match.
The error count of the Lions was also surprisingly poor; there were forward passes, poor kicks out of hand, silly options taken and they also gave away numerous penalties. It was, in a nutshell, a poor performance.
Stephen Larkham’s Brumbies, who went into the game on the back of just three wins and described by Ackermann as being Bulls-like, gave nothing to the Lions in the first half and dominated all aspects of the game. They played strongly with their forwards and used Kyle Godwin and Tevita Kuridrani in the centres to run hard at the visitors, but Ackermann’s men held firm and kept out every attack.
All the home side could show for their dominance at the break was three points via the boot of flyhalf Wharenui Hawera.
The Lions though, with their first choice front row of Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx and Jacques van Rooyen pushed into action soon after the half-time break, hit back with a strong scrum in the 52nd minute to win a penalty and the scores were level after Elton Jantjies slotted the penalty.
Then, two minutes later and against the run of play, the Lions landed a major blow. A loose pass by the Brumbies was snaffled by Lionel Mapoe, who quickly fed a charging Kwagga Smith, who then turned on the after-burners to run all of 60 metres to score in the corner. Jantjies converted the try to give the Lions a 10-3 lead. It was a telling blow.
Hawera converted a second penalty soon after the Smith try to leave the game finely balanced, but the Lions tackled and tackled, forced turn-overs by holding up the Brumbies players and won some crucial balls on the ground.
Fullback Andries Coetzee finished off the Brumbies with a late penalty; a result that will give the players plenty of belief in what is still to come.
The Lions face the Bulls at home next week and that’s followed by another Ellis Park match against the Kings. After the June break they entertain the Sunwolves before finishing off against the Sharks in Durban. They’ll be well pleased where they currently find themselves in the standings.
Brumbies (3) 6 Penalties: Hawera (2)
Lions (0) 13 Try: Smith; Conversion: Jantjies; Penalties: Jantjies, Coetzee