Lions forward Willem Alberts collects the ball during their Currie Cup game against the Sharks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday evening. Photo: @LionsRugbyCo/Twitter
Lions forward Willem Alberts collects the ball during their Currie Cup game against the Sharks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday evening. Photo: @LionsRugbyCo/Twitter

Lions too good for Sharks in Ellis Park encounter

By Lunga Biyela Time of article published Dec 19, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG – Viewers had to endure the heavy breathing of referee Jaco Peyper and an unrelenting kicking game from both sides as the Lions and Sharks battled for territory at Ellis Park on Saturday night.

It is not often that the Lions are the senior of the two teams, but that was the case as a young Sharks side – averaging 23-years of age – came up short against a determined Lions’ side, grizzled by the fire and brimstone of previous hard-fought victories.

That came in handy and coach Ivan van Rooyen will be quite pleased with the way his side controlled the game through their forwards and their unbreakable defence.

The Lions controlled a scrappy, penalty-laden first half in which Elton Jantjies and Tiaan Swanepoel slotted over three penalties, and Courtnall Skosan scored a try in the corner. It was built on their expected forward dominance, the Joburgers pressurising the Sharks scrum – especially Michael Kumberei who had the unenviable task of packing down against Springbok Jannie du Plessis, while also swarming the breakdown. They simply outmuscled the Sharks with a belligerent display that gave them the majority of possession.

Territory, however, remained the name of the game, as both teams worked the angle to turn the respective packs around. That stat belonged to the powerful Lions as well, and only the massive boot of Sharks No 10 Curwin Bosch kept his side’s score ticking over. His two penalties in the first half were slotted over from inside his half, and barring an exciting run from Springbok wing Sbu Nkosi that pierced the 22 of the Lions, the men in the red and hwie hooped jersey enjoyed the ascendancy in the first 40.

Their failure of the Sharks to break down the Lions was no doubt the result of a staunch defence which constantly tackled them backwards - another addendum of the Joburgers’ forwards supremacy. Handling errors throughout the encounter did not help the Sharks’ cause, stifling any attack that they had.

The second half had the same disjointed feel to it as the arm-wrestle continued, once again in the favour of the Lions, despite Bosch slotting over the first points of the stanza. Swanepoel and Jantjies at first restored the lead and then extended it. Their defence remained unrelenting, the Bone Collector especially prevalent in those exchanges, and crucially denying the Sharks any modicum of momentum. The Man of the Match was instrumental in denying the Sharks’ best chance of scoring a try, tackling with intent on their tryline which ended the coastal teams’ resistance in earnest.

Wandisile Simelane then danced his way through the Sharks defence, off-loading to Swanepoel who all but ended the encounter in the 72nd minute, Jantjies cooly slotting over the conversion for a 27-12 lead. It was perhaps the most fluid of games, but the Lions were full value for their important victory.

Their fourth victory on the trot boosted the Lions to second spot on the standings, leap-frogging the Sharks and the Western Province in the process, and they now have a very real chance of securing a home semi-final in the coming weeks despite having a game over the majority of the other sides.

@FreemanZAR

IOL Sport

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