Warren Whiteley looks on during Saturday's match at Ellis Park. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - Lions skipper Warren Whiteley has hailed his team’s growing maturity following their come-from-behind win against the Sharks in a round six Super Rugby match at Ellis Park on Saturday.

The 34-29 victory - the Lions’ fifth in six outings this year and their ninth on the trot at home since April 30 last year - puts Whiteley’s team in charge of their conference as they enjoy their first bye this week. They have 23 log points, five more than the Jaguares and Sharks.

In an epic South African derby, the Sharks went 13-3 up after 20 minutes, just for the Lions to fight back and trail by three at the break and then register the victory in the dying minutes.

It was a game that had it all: fantastic tries, controversies, big hits and stunning performances, in particular by young Curwin Bosch, who not only kicked 19 points, but showed with his positional play, attacking prowess and big boot he is the real deal and must get into the national picture as soon as possible. His only mistake on a night when he kicked brilliantly at goal, including slotting a monster drop-goal, was to miss touch with a clearance kick in the 76th minute that allowed the Lions to counter-attack and score their match-winning try by Jaco Kriel.

“We were behind quickly in what was a poor first half for us,” lamented Whiteley after the clash. “The Sharks put us under pressure at the breakdowns and Curwin kicked superbly, but credit to my boys ... they stayed calm and the seniors really stepped up. That’s where experience comes into the picture.

“We knew there was still lots of time left in the match and after scoring that try before half-time (by Malcolm Marx) we started building towards the 80th minute. We played more direct rugby and we got the rewards.”

Courtnall Skosan scored a stunner of a try after the half-time break that put the home team in front for the first time, and then it was a ding-dong affair until the dying minutes. “It wasn’t a pretty performance by us, but we’ll take the victory. It’s matches like these that will make us grow as a team ... when you have to grind it out and really fight,” said Whiteley.

The captain added the 80 minutes was up there with Test match rugby for intensity. “Tactically, both teams tried to outdo each other, it was a real kicking contest for territory and attacks were only really launched when we were in the opposition half of the field. It was a helluva game, close to the very end, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Lions boss Johan Ackermann, too, said it was a fantastic comeback by his team. “At 13-3 down the game had gotten away from us, so it was a special comeback, especially against such a quality side,” he said.

“We didn’t play like we normally do, we gave away too many penalties early on and were really asleep in that first half. But our bye comes at just the right time; it’s been a big challenge up to now, with some tough games, the trip to Argentina and the Japan-based guys coming into the picture quite late.

“So we’ll enjoy a few days off and then prepare for the Stormers, at Newlands, and we’ve all seen what they just did to the Cheetahs, so it doesn’t get any easier in this competition.”

The Star