JOHANNESBURG - After giving up a comfortable 10-point half-time lead to lose to the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, Lions coach Swys de Bruin said it was one of those losses that you simply have to take on the chin and move on.
The 31-24 defeat by the Durbanites was the first loss by the Lions in a local derby in 21 matches, going back to 2015. At the same time it was the Sharks’ first win against the Joburg side in eight outings. “It wasn’t nice to lose the game the way we did ... to give up the 21 in a row,” said De Bruin about his side giving up a 21-11 half-time lead after dominating most departments for much of the first hour.
His team had scored three good tries through Ruan Combrinck, Cyle Brink and Kwagga Smith and all the returning players - those who were with the Springboks in June as well as those who’d been injured for some time, among them Warren Whiteley and Malcolm Marx - had put in good shifts. But a Lwazi Mvovo intercept try midway through the second half, after earlier tries by Dan du Preez and Andre Esterhuizen, swung the momentum the Sharks’ way.
At the same time, De Bruin’s decision to change his props - who had helped their team dominate the scrum battle - and send most of his replacements onto the field before 60 minutes were up turned the game in favour of the home team. “The guys who were out for a long time played well. We kept the ball well and stuck to what we wanted to do,” said De Bruin in summing up his thoughts of his team’s performance.
“But also, it’s one that got away from us. We played well until the interception (try) ... it’s a game of margins. It went their way this time and there’s not much more to say. We created enough chances which we didn’t take ... we’ll take it on the chin and move on. The positive is that this was an away game and we got a bonus point out of it. We’re still top of the log with one game left ... but now we have to fight for it.”
The result has left the South African Super Rugby Conference wide open with two rounds to go. The Lions will enjoy a bye this weekend knowing they are top of the conference log with 41 points, with a game to play, against the Bulls, at Ellis Park, next weekend. But hot on their heels are the Jaguares, who are on a seven-match winning run, and one of the danger teams in the competition. The South Americans have 38 points, and have two games to play - against the Bulls and Sharks, in Pretoria and Durban respectively. If they win both, they’ll be guaranteed to finish top of the conference log.
The Sharks, in third place, can also still finish top of the pile, but they will have to win their remaining games with bonus points - against the Stormers in Cape Town and the Jaguares in Durban - and hope the Lions don’t beat the Bulls in their final game. Several of the Lions’ players will enjoy a much-needed break this week, among them some of their Bok players - Franco Mostert, Elton Jantjies and Aphiwe Dyantyi - who were all involved in most of the June Test action against Wales and England.