Pumas too good for Covid-hit Lions in Mbombela
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JOHANNESBURG – A shocking display by the Lions resulted in their worst performance of the season during their opening match of the Currie Cup against an organised Pumas side at Mbombela Stadium on Friday night.
The Johannesburg-based side, recently hit by a Covid-19 outbreak that no doubt hampered their preparation for this match, were out-played through a commanding performance by the Pumas. It was a hideous outing and hard material to watch for any Lions supporter as they succumbed to a 39-10 defeat.
It started off poorly for the Lions as they perpetrated a scrappy first 10 minutes, in which they fluffed a certain try. A clever little dink by flyhalf Fred Zeilinga in the Pumas 22 released Rabz Maxwane with no defender in sight, but embarrassingly for the wing, he knocked the ball on as he endeavoured to collect it on the whitewash.
As expected from the Jimmy Stonehouse-coached team, the Pumas made a real fist of it at scrum-time, hampering the Lions in that department throughout the encounter. But, despite that particular set-piece set-back, the Lions had a measure of control during the first half-hour, even though they failed to capitalise on it. They also made some impressive turnovers at the breakdown - through captain Francke Horn especially - to stifle any threat from the Pumas attack during the early exchanges.
It took until the 23rd minute for the Lions forwards to take the responsibility upon themselves, Sibusiso Sangweni wrestling the ball over the tryline for the opening score, duly converted by Fred Zeilinga. Two quick penalties slotted over by Eddie Fouche, however, kept the Pumas within touching distance as the half entered its final 10 minutes. The Pumas then rocked the Lions, scoring two tries in five minutes.
The first came after a skewed kick by Dan Kriel was collected by the Nelspruit-based team, flyhalf Fouche spotting empty space behind the Lions defensive line, chipping a kick over the defenders which was then collected smartly by Etienne Taljaard to score in the far-side corner. And moments later hooker Simon Westraadt dotted down with the help of a powerful maul - the Pumas leading at the break 18-10.
It was an underwhelming first half performance by the Lions, despite the red-and-white hooped outfit enjoying 62% of the possession and 55% of the territory. Basic handling errors from the Joburgers, and excellent defending in this first period by the Pumas, conspired against them and they paid dearly for their mistakes to trail at the start of the second half, the momentum shifting into the hands of their hosts.
Make no mistake, the Pumas were full value for their eight point lead after having managed the match with more composure and maturity.
The Pumas started the second half the more confident team, and came desperately close to scoring through Westraadt through a maul, only for the attempt to be judged short. They would nevertheless dot down from the subsequent attacking scrum, eigthman Willie Engelbrecht breaking away from the set-piece and reaching over the tryline to touch down.
The Lions were now 15 points behind with 30 minutes remaining, with intelligent play following by the Pumas to ping them back in their own half.
The encounter all but ended as a contest in the 61st minute as replacement prop Dewald Maritz crashed over the whitewash to increase the Pumas lead to 32-10. The Pumas then added the final insult to the scoreline, Ginter Smuts taking a quick tap to score on the padding of the upright.
The only solace that the Lions can take from the encounter is that they were missing key players, a reality that can hopefully be rectified when they face the western Province on Wednesday. In almost every other aspect of the game, however, they were outplayed, bereft of ideas and poor in their execution.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen will surely have sleepless nights for the next few days after such a torrid performance, compounded by the fact that his team was unable to score any points in the second half.
Pumas (18) 39 – Try: Taljaard, Westraad, Engelbrecht, Maritz, Smuts; Conversion: Fouche (2); Penalty: Fouche (4)
Lions (10) 10 – Try: Sangweni; Conversion: Zeilinga; Penalty: Zeilinga