JOHANNESBURG – The Lions are up and running in this year’s Currie Cup competition, even if only by the skin of their teeth.
Ivan van Rooyen’s men over-turned a 16-point deficit with 15 minutes to play against the Pumas at Ellis Park on Saturday to win 38-37, and record a first round win.
In all, the Lions scored six tries to the four by the Pumas, who led 37-21 at one stage.
The big star of the comeback and performance was 22-year-old wing, Madosh Tambwe, who for the second time in two years scored four tries in a match. Van Rooyen hailed him as a “special player” afterwards.
“He’s tall and he’s got pace; he’s a great finisher. He’s special,” said Van Rooyen.
Tambwe, who also scored four tries in the 52-31 Super Rugby win against the Stormers at Ellis Park last year, had to be satisfied with SuperSport Challenge rugby earlier this year as Courtnall Skosan, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Ruan Combrinck all stood in front of him in the Super Rugby queue.
Stand-in coach Van Rooyen was delighted with the win.
“It was the belief in the players (that sparked the comeback),” said coach Van Rooyen.
“I said in the week leading up to the competition we wanted to test the character of the players, and they showed great character to pull it off. I’m ecstatic, to have come back like that with so many youngsters on the field. You could see we hadn’t played for a while because there was a lot of rustiness in the players, but that was great.”
In a thrilling match that saw 10 tries being scored, fullback Tyrone Green and flyhalf Shaun Reynolds also crossed for the Lions, while the Pumas’ tries came from Carel du Preez, Le Roux Roets, Etienne Taljaard and Morgan Naude.
An agitated Pumas boss Jimmy Stonehouse questioned Tambwe’s third try, which needed to be awarded by the television match official.
“I think he scored it short of the line, it’s obvious for me,” said Stonehouse. “Also, was it clear and obvious that he got the ball down? But that’s the ref’s call ... sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Stonehouse was also upset that Lions lock Rhyno Herbst wasn’t red-carded in the second half for a second incident of foul play. He’d earlier sat out for 10 minutes because of a dangerous clear out a ruck.
“It was a game of decisions ... the Lions lock made a late tackle (in the second half, for a second offense). I thought it could be red.”
Stonehouse though did admit his side should never have lost the game after being 37-21 up with 15 minutes to play.
“We made errors. We could have and should have taken three points ... we missed having an extra prop on the bench, and our tackling was poor. Their effort in the last 20 minutes was amazing.”
“I don’t know what went wrong in defence. We played good rugby ... we had it, we were supposed to win it, but we let it go.”
The Pumas this week travel to Kimberley for a match with the Griquas, while the Lions have a bye.@jacq_west