Lions beat Pumas to keep Currie Cup play-off hopes alive
JOHANNESBURG – It did not go all to plan, but the Lions will remain pleased and relieved that their marched towards the play-off remained a tangible reality as they return from Nelspruit having claimed a dogged win against a determined Pumas side on Saturday.
In a hard-fought Carling Currie Cup encounter that oscillated between the sublime and disjointed, the men from Johannesburg secured a crucial four points in their quest to make the play-offs, and the hope will be that failing to return with a bonus point will not come back to haunt them by next week’s end.
On Wednesday they face the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in their final regular season encounter, and barring mathematical anomalies, they should find themselves competing in the semifinals in a fortnight’s time. This is largely due to the massive clash next week Saturday between the WP and Sharks, which could cancel out one of those teams ambitions to make the top 4.
Nevertheless, it was arguably one of the poorer performances from the Lions this season, despite the triumph, in the Currie Cup, but that had as much to do with the Pumas uncompromising performance as it was the Joburgers non-clinical approach. There was no doubt also a layer of rust caked around the team as a whole - it has been two weeks since last they played after a forced postponement against the Bulls on Boxing Day. Even so, it was a brave outing by the Pumas, led with aplomb by captain and eightman Willie Englebrecht. It was a performance of guts and determination, and although they failed to claim victory, they pushed the Lions all the way. In this regard, it was the street smarts of the Lions, and the cool and collected attitude of the team as a whole, that helped them outclass the team from Nelspruit.
At every opportunity during the game, the Lions did their utmost to up the tempo of the game, swinging out wide to Wandisile Simelane in the midfield and Courtnall Skosan and Stean Pienaar on the wings They ran hard at the Pumas, but also off-loaded dubious passes and seemingly kept their eye on the man, instead of the ball, committing too many handling-errors in the process. They lacked the cutting edge, forced into error by a staunch and unrelenting Pumas rush defence, unyielding in its application.
The Pumas matched their more illustrious opponents throughout the game, asking questions, placing pressure on the Joburgers at the line-outs and scrum alike, while contesting the breakdown enough to disrupt the Lions and force them into mistakes. The line-out was especially in disarray for a Lions side that takes massive pride in that department - for once Marvin Orie and his peers failing to control that particular set-piece. The gameplan from the Lions was clear: run at pace at the Pumas and break them down, but with the never-say die attitude of the Pumas, they found themselves trailing after17-13 at half-time. Once again, it was of the Lions making as they lacked a degree of intensity and also the composure to play a fast-paced running gameplan, with the Pumas taking advantage of any disruption and mistakes.
The introduction of Carlu Sadie and Ruan Dreyer in the frontrow changed the fortunes of the Lions at scrumtime in the second half, the red and white hoops now enjoying a measure of supremacy in that setpiece. But they could not wrestle the match away from the Pumas who remained prickly opponents to the very last moment of the match.
It was only through the brace of Tiaan Swanepoel in the first stanza of the second half, coupled with his and captain Elton Jantjies unerring boots, that the Lions took control of the lead, maintained their composure and secured the triumph. The Lions are no doubt better than the performance they dished up in Nelspruit but with this match behind them, they can look to correct their faults, and concentrate on finishing strong in the coming weeks.
Pumas (17) 25 – Tries: Engelbracht, Westraadt, Cronje; Conversions: Smuts (2); Penalties: Smuts (2)
Lions (13) 33 – Tries: Visagie, Swanepoel (2); Conversions: Jantjies (3); Penalties: Swanepoel (4)