JOHANNESBURG – The loss in the 26th minute of key Lions loose-forward, Kwagga Smith, was a big turning point in the round 17 Super Rugby match against the Hurricanes, who went on to win 37-17 at Ellis Park on Saturday.
That’s according to coach Swys de Bruin, who was forced to replace his in-form No 8 before half-time.
Up to that stage the Lions had pretty much kept the dangerous Hurricanes in check, and the teams would change sides after half-time level at 10-all, but the men from New Zealand found their range in the second half and literally blew the Lions away.
“For sure,” was De Bruin’s response afterwards when asked whether Smith’s injury had played a big role in how the match played itself out.
“We were in it at half-time. Kwagga has had such a good season and when he went down we had to dig deep,” said De Bruin.
“I thought the youngsters stood up though; they were brilliant, but there were too many individual errors on our part, and the Hurricanes killed us at the breakdowns. We couldn’t play ... it was like déjà vu; they put 50 past us in 2016 as well. It’s a movie I’ve seen before.”
In the end, the Hurricanes ran in five tries - by centre Ngani Laumape, and two each by wing Ben Lam and replacement hooker Dane Coles. The Lions’ two tries came from wing Aphiwe Dyantyi.
Captain Malcolm Marx agreed with De Bruin that a few individual mistakes put the Lions on the back foot - especially the try the Hurricanes scored straight from the restart after half-time, which gave them the momentum and belief they needed to down their hosts. “The Hurricanes were more clinical, they took their points, and they punished our mistakes.”
The defeat - the Lions’ seventh in 15 matches - has left De Bruin’s team in third place in the SA Conference and probably needing to win against the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday to qualify for a wildcard in the quarter-finals.
They’re currently sixth on the combined log with 35 points, with the Stormers and Rebels both on 34, and in places seven and eight. But in ninth are the Sharks with 33 points, and they’re followed by the Chiefs and Highlanders, who both have 31 points and in position to leapfrog the Lions if things go their way this weekend.
De Bruin said he’d have to quickly turn his attention to the Bulls, who’ve moved up to fifth on the overall log with 36 points. The Jaguares, who beat the Sharks on Saturday night, have already wrapped up the SA Conference and will host a quarter-final in Buenos Aires next week.
“The Bulls got some points overseas and I’ll have to start thinking about this coming Saturday soon,” said De Bruin. “We couldn’t get anything from the Hurricanes, not even a bonus point.”
The Lions will know today how serious the hamstring injury is suffered by Smith, but it appears he'll be out of action for up to six weeks.@jacq_west