JOHANNESBURG – Phew, how the Lions will be thanking their lucky stars today.
Swys de Bruin’s team were poor in scraping home 40-38 against the Sunwolves at Ellis Park on Saturday evening.
There would have been moments that De Bruin and all the fans thought they would actually go down to the Sunwolves – a team they scored a 94-7 win against a year ago – but they hung on for dear life, scored when they had to, and bagged a nervy, and crucial win.
It will go down as one of those games that the players and coaching team will want to forget as quickly as possible.
The Lions really did nothing right on the night and only a handful of players, among them hooker Malcolm Marx, can feel satisfied with their performance.
De Bruin’s men played silly rugby for the most part.
They tried to run out of danger – and far too often – and they were also found wanting at the breakdowns, while their decision-making and option-taking at times were just simply poor.
Their handling and offloading was also very dodgy and, simply put, they never showed their opponents the necessary respect and they very nearly paid a very heavy price.
As it is, it is a fourth win for the Lions, while the Sunwolves crashed to their fourth straight defeat this year. Credit to Jamie Joseph and his charges though who played with desire, hunger and plenty of spirit. They also got their tactics spot on; they rushed the Lions in defence, played in their faces, and forced the home team into making errors they don’t usually make.
De Bruin made several changes to his side ahead of the match – to rest certain men for this week’s trip to Argentina – and the Lions looked out of sorts and unsettled and there was a again something lacking in the leadership.
How Warren Whiteley is being missed at the moment.
It was an all-round nervy and error-ridden performance by last year’s runners-up, but when they went 14-3 up inside 20 minutes it looked as if another hiding was on the cards.
Andries Coetzee and Lourens Erasmus scored early tries for their team before former Sharks Academy fullback Kotaro Matsushima went over for the Sunwolves.
Marx then went over from a lineout move to stretch his team’s lead to 19-10, but before the break Craig Millar, the New Zealand-born prop of the visitors, scored his team’s second try.
It was anyone’s game at the break and it stayed that way for the entire second half.
Lions wing Aphiwe Dyantyi went over after charging down a clearance kick from the restart.
But that try was soon cancelled out by Hosea Saumaki’s try in the corner, the wing brushing off attempted tackles by Coetzee, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Dynatyi to score.
The Sunwolves then went ahead through a converted try by lock Kazuki Himeno, who intercepted on halfway and ran in untouched.
The Lions though restored their lead in the latter stages through tries by Marx, his second from a lineout move, and Janse van Rensburg, who barged over from close range.
At 40-31 up the home team had managed to give themselves some breathing room.
Right at the end, though, the visitors ensured a nervy finish after a converted try by replacement Atshushi Sakati.
The Lions were poor in most respects; the Sunwolves played the game of their lives... and both would have learned plenty about themselves.
Lions 40 – Tries: Andries Coetzee, Lourens Erasmus, Malcolm Marx (2), Aphiwe Dyantyi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (5).
Sunwolves 38 – Tries: Kotaro Matsushima, Millar, Hosea Saumaki, Himeno, Sakati; Conversions: Tupou (5). Penalty: Tupou (1).