The Lions put aside a coaching shake-up by registering a first win in three matches when they downed the Chiefs 23-17 in a thrilling round 10 Super Rugby match in Hamilton on Friday.
Not only did the Lions lose their defence coach Joey Mongalo in the week – he has returned home to South Africa from the tour - but head coach Swys de Bruin, too, left the camp in the hours before Friday’s match.
Mongalo is facing an internal disciplinary hearing after being found guilty of sexual harassment in a Sydney Court earlier this month. A hotel worker last year laid charges against Mongalo, who had been on tour in Sydney with the Lions a year ago. Mongalo has appealed the conviction and the sentence.
And De Bruin is said to have left the team and returned to South Africa for “personal reasons”. Cash van Rooyen, the regular conditioning coach, is believed to have taken charge of the squad.
Interestingly, after De Bruin named his team for the Chiefs match in the week with big guns Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies on the bench, the team that ran out in Hamilton on Friday included the two Boks in the starting side. They both performed well, with Marx especially prominent with the captaincy no longer in his hands.
Warren Whiteley returned to lead the side and he, along with several of his big-name team-mates, enjoyed a solid outing.
While the Lions hung on to win in the face of some desperate and good Chiefs play in the second half they now have to travel to Christchurch to face the Crusaders this coming week ... and that will be without De Bruin, Mongalo and experienced wing Courtnall Skosan, who also returned to South Africa to be with his ill father.
The Lions were the better team from the off on Friday, with the pack firing strongly and dominant at scrum and lineout time, and ensured quality front foot ball for the backs to play with, and how they played.
With the dynamic rookie, Gianni Lombard, at flyhalf and Jantjies outside him the Lions backs looked far more dangerous than in the last few weeks and after pinning the Chiefs in their own half, the visitors won a penalty which Jantjies slotted. It was just reward for a strong and promising opening 10 minutes for the visitors, but the Chiefs slowly clawed their way back into the tie.
They carried the ball strongly and asked plenty of questions of the Lions defence, which, for a change, stood firm and repelled every attack. And then, almost against the run of play, Jantjies knocked over a second penalty before a late first half double strike just about knocked out the Chiefs.
Powerful young prop Carlu Sadie, back in the side after playing off the bench last week against the Brumbies, powered his way over the tryline from close and then, in the 40th minute, Aphiwe Dyantyi collected a well executed grubber-kick by Whiteley to run in his team’s second try. Jantjies converted both tries to give the Lions a handy 20-0 lead at the break.
The home team though, desperate to extend their three-game unbeaten run, hit back with tries by Sean Wanui , Nepo Laulala and Tumua Manu in the second half, and it could possibly have been a few tries more, but for some excellent Lions tackling. It was a trying last few minutes for the Lions, who really had their backs to the wall in the latter stages, but a last-gasp drop-goal by Jantjies gave them a bit of breathing space in the final seconds.
Chiefs: (00) 17
Tries: Wainui, Laulala, Manu; Conversion: McKenzie
Lions (20) 23
Tries: Sadie, Dyantyi; Conversions: Jantjies (2); Penalties: Jantjies (2); Drop-goal: Jantjies