First resolution achieved for the Golden Lions
JOHANNESBURG - Mission: Top Four has been achieved, but Operation Championship must wait a bit longer to start in earnest.
The Golden Lions awoke this morning as Currie Cup semi-finalists after beating the Pumas in Nelspruit on Saturday 33-25 and the consequential and nail-biting 31-29 defeat of the Free State Cheetahs to Western Province some hours later in Bloemfontein.
That loss opened a six point gap between the defending champions from the Free State and the top four - an insurmountable divide with one round to go.
For the Lions, however, that final round will decide who and where they will play in the playoffs. Now sitting third on the log with 33 points, level with the Sharks and two points behind the Blue Bulls - who they play midweek - and WP, there remains every possibility that they could still secure a home semi- final.
They will, of course, need to beat their northern rivals away on Wednesday, and also cross fingers and toes that the Sharks beat Province this Saturday or that massive clash ends in a draw.
It was not a vintage performance from the Lions against the Pumas this past weekend, despite the victory being their fifth win on the trot, but the Joburger’s technical team and players alike will be relieved and pleased that they used every ounce of their composure and experience to overcome a determined Nelspruit-based outfit that took every opportunity to disrupt and stifle their ambitions.
The Lions made numerous errors and where not clinical in their approach during the match for the most part, but when they did click they showed their class, scoring three well-earned tries.
The first was through hooker Jaco Visagie off a mean-looking maul, but in general the line-out was not it’s usual, functional self. The usually solid setplay was marred by losing four of their own throw-ins, including one five-meters out from the Pumas’ whitewash.
So too, did the usually powerful scrum underwhelm at times, but fans should doff their caps in acknowledgement of the Pumas forwards, who simply refused to be dictated to in that area, as well as the breakdowns where they snaffled four turnovers from the Lions.
The rush defence also made it exceedingly difficult for the Lions to generate front-foot ball, forcing uncharacteristic handling errors with Ivan van Rooyen’s team reverting to perhaps making to many 50-50 plays in the process.
But enough of the deficiencies that can easily be rectified in the coming days and weeks. The Lions can remain proud of their overall performances during the regular season of the Currie Cup and must be chuffed that they secured the top four berth with a game in hand.
The game-management of skipper Elton Jantjies continues to improve, the No 10 now more than comfortable to delegate and take some responsibility off of his shoulders. That has resulted in the amelioration of fullback Tiaan Swanepoel, who scored a brace of tries in the match and slotted over four penalties.