Super Rugby / 16 March 2019, 5:25pm / Jacques van der Westhuyzen at Ellis Park
Comebacks don’t get much better than that!
The Lions pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in their Super Rugby history when they fought back from being 5-33 down at the start of the second half to beat the Melbourne Rebels in a scintillating round five match.
Replacement flyhalf, 21-year-old Gianni Lombard, slotted the winning penalty after the final hooter had sounded to help the Lions to a quite astonishing victory. It was a first defeat for the Rebels this season, but they would have had thoughts of making it four in a row when they went 33-5 up after half-time.
Dave Wessels’ team had produced a powerful performance in the first 42 minutes, running hard and straight at the Lions youngsters, who had no answer for the more powerful visitors and they deservedly led at the break after scoring four tries to the Lions’ opener after just five minutes.
Malcolm Marx burst over the tryline after a smart move with Dylan Smith at a lineout, but then the Rebels took over and scored tries through Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Billy Meakes and Isa Naisarani. They fed off numerous mistakes by the Lions, whose handling and ball control left much to be desired.
The Lions also took a bit of a beating in the set-pieces and at half-time looked to be completely out of the clash. If truth be told, they were being schooled by a slick and well-organised machine in the Rebels. And it looked worse when Tom English scored his team’s fifth try straight after the resumption of play, but the Lions then turned the game on its head after Meakes was sent to the sin bin for 10 minute in the 47th minute.
With the Rebels reduced to 14 men, the Lions got a sniff, clicked into gear and produced something quite special. First Marnus Schoeman went over and he was soon followed by replacement back Andries Coetzee before another replacement Lionel Mapoe scored a stunner when he beat a lax Cooper to the loose ball inside the in-goal area.
With their tails up and the replacements adding a new energy to proceedings the Lions smelt blood. Courtnall Skosan then went over with 15 minutes to go, after the irrepressible Kwagga Smith charged down the touchline in another quality performance, for the Lions to draw level at 33-all.
Lions boss Swys de Bruin then took the gamble to take Smith and Elton Jantjies off with 10 minutes to go, Lombard coming on to help his team get across the line. In a tense final few minutes the Lions had opportunities to kick a penalty but opted for the lineout, which came to nothing.
And just when it looked as if their chance had gone, they won a scrum penalty and opted to kick at goal, rather than for touch. From a tight angle Lombard stepped up and nailed the kick. It was the Lions’ only penalty attempt in the 80 minutes.
In all, the Lions scored 31 unanswered points in the final 38 minutes, with many of the franchise’s youngsters on the field. While the Rebels will be wondering how they let this one slip from their grasp, the Lions will know nothing is impossible. They’re next up against the Sunwolves in Singapore this weekend; the Rebels travel to Durban for a date with the Sharks.