Lions’ youngsters beat Pumas in tight Ellis Park encounter
JOHANNESBURG – It started precariously, even tentatively, but as the encounter continued a Lions side packed full of its youngsters found the confidence to squeeze out a victory in their first match of the 2021 season on Friday night.
It might not have been convincing against the Pumas at Emirates Airline Park, but then it need not have been. It is a pre-season exercise after all, but what will be important, and a major positive for coaches Ivan van Rooyen and Mziwakhe Nkosi, is that lessons were learnt, the gameplan was followed, and several fringe players got to show off their wares. The last objective will take more than this 80 minutes to make a final decree upon, and if not for the failing boot of Pumas flyhalf Eddie Fouche and Ginter Smuts, the result could easily have swung the way of the Nelspruit-side.
It is true, the Pumas let themselves down in this game with the boot, their decision-making and finishing, and probably should have claimed a rare victory on the Highveld, preparation match or not..
The Lions can, nevertheless, be proud of their defensive efforts above all else - it kept the controlling Pumas at bay - but sterner tests await that will require the same commitment and much more. During the first half especially, while this young Lions side was under the pump, it remained their standout department, denying the Nelspruit-based side from dotting over the whitewash on a handful of occasions and extending their lead. It was ultimately the Lions’ defence that kept them in touching distance of the visiting side as Morne van den Berg collected a loose-ball with the first 40 coming to a close, and stepped his way to an equalising try.
A second half arm-wrestle ensued as both sides tussled for supremacy, the Lions much improved after what must have been a stern talking to at half-time, while also showing a degree of major fight and yet, if not for those missed kicks at goal, the Pumas would have been victorious. Lions flyhalf Tiaan Swanepoel made no such mistakes, missing only one kick to the Pumas 14 points left out on the field.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Joburgers will be Roelof Smit, who limped off in the last five minutes of the match with what seemed to be an ankle injury. The extent of the injury will likely be revealed in the coming days, and many will hope it is not so serious as to be another prolonged set-back in the flanker's career.
The Lions next face the Eastern Province on March 10.
Lions (13) 32 – Tries: Van den Berg, Pelser; Conversion: Swanepoel (2); Penalties: Swanepoel (6)
Pumas (13) 28 – Tries: Westraad, Le Roux, Mgijma; Conversion: Fouche, Smuts; Penalties: Fouche (3)