JOHANNESBURG – Lions captain Ross Cronje said his team were “absolutely nowhere” in going down 31-26 to the Blue Bulls in a round five Currie Cup match at Ellis Park on Saturday.
It was a first defeat for the Lions in this year’s competition after they previously won against the Pumas (38-37), Western Province (30-28) and the Free State (24-22). Those victories however were due to second half fight-backs by the Lions but despite another heroic effort on Saturday couldn’t come back a fourth time.
The Lions trailed the Bulls 12-0 inside 10 minutes and levelled at 12-all midway through the first half and closed to within two points with 10 minutes to play (28-26), but the Bulls hung on for just their second win in five matches.
Asked after the defeat on Saturday if the Lions’ luck had finally run out, Cronje said: “No ... tonight we just weren’t good enough. Well done to the Bulls ... they were hungry, they were desperate and we just didn’t pitch up. We were absolutely nowhere.”
He continued: “From the first minute they were hungrier than we were. We thought it was just going to happen. We got no momentum into our game and it was mistake after mistake and you can’t build continuity like that.
“It was a learning curve for us, but with two games to go, there’s still a lot to play for.”
What made the Bulls’ win that much more remarkable and tougher to accept for the Lions is the fact Pote Human’s men were reduced to 14 men for most of the game after Fred Eksteen was red-carded for foul play around the 20th minute. They also lost Andries Ferreira to the sin bin for 10 minutes while Dylan Sage also copped a yellow card at the death.
The Bulls’ Manie Libbok enjoyed a memorable game after scoring a try in a performance that yielded 21 points for the flyhalf.
The win by the Bulls leaves them in sixth place on the log with one game to play, while the Lions, thanks to the two bonus points earned, are still well placed in second, with 15 points, the same as Griquas who sit on top. Both teams have two matches to play before the knockout rounds.
The Lions will hope to welcome back a few injury returnees this week, among them possibly Cyle Brink, Dylan Smith, Jan-Louis la Grange, Manny Rass, Wilhelm van der Sluys and Jacobie Adriaanse.
“We’ll assess the players on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and see who is available. There will be some guys rejoining us this week,” said the Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.
“I also don’t know which Bok players will be available to us; I know Marvin Orie is around, but we’ll first have to wait and see what Rassie (Erasmus) decides.”
Meanwhile, Van Rooyen confirmed Warren Whiteley had suffered a setback in his rehabilitation.
“Warren was put on a programme to help accelerate his rehab, to get him ready for World Cup consideration, but unfortunately he hasn’t responded as we’d have liked.
He’s taken a few steps backwards, so it’s now a week by week thing.”@jacq_west