JOHANNESBURG – The good news is the Lions ended a three-match losing streak and got back to winning ways on Saturday night.
And, sadly, that’s about where it ends.
Swys de Bruin’s men returned to their home ground on Saturday after a disappointing tour of Australasia and, if truth be told, got somewhat lucky to get the W behind their name in the results column against the Brumbies at Ellis Park.
They were never in charge of a match that delivered little in excitement and quality, and had to rely on the Brumbies being reduced to 13 men late on to pull ahead of the men from Canberra, and then seal the deal.
That was when lock Rory Arnold had been red-carded for a head-high tackle on Elton Jantjies, and fellow second-rower Sam Carter had been yellow-carded for an infringement at a maul.
It allowed the Lions’ super-sub Marnus Schoeman to score from a driving maul from a lineout to help his team into a 28-24 lead, and then two later tries killed off the former two-time champions, who’ve now lost five matches on the trot.
The result ensured the Lions stayed out in front in the SA Conference, but if De Bruin’s men don’t catch a wake-up soon, they’re not going to go very far in the competition when the knockout rounds come round later on.
They were again error-prone, with passes not being accurate, tackles being missed and the backs running horribly skew at times.
There was also little imagination on attack, and the lineout work was again wobbly – as it’s been for most of the season.
The Lions, though, did again score a good number of tries, and it could have been more, but for some excellent defence at times by the Brumbies.
However, it’ll be of some concern – or maybe it won’t? – that the Lions are so reliant on their lineout drive, which gets them plenty of five-pointers.
Besides Schoeman dotting down in this fashion, Robbie Coetzee and Ruan Dreyer’s tries came thanks to the lineout win and drive.
And while the Lions scored through Rohan Janse van Rensburg before 10 minutes were up on the clock, and always stayed in touch of the Brumbies – who themselves scored three tries – the Lions only closed out the game late on when the visitors’ spirit was broken through the carding of two of their players.
Replacement back Shaun Reynolds and lock Lourens Erasmus scored tries in the final six minutes to open a big gap on the Brumbies, but it was a far tighter and closer match than the result suggests.
Jantjies, in his 100th Super Rugby game, got better as the contest went on and his kicking was top-notch.
He slotted all six conversions – a crucial aspect as it kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Not much came of the exciting midfield pairing of Janse van Rensburg – who tried hard for the time he was on the field and showed his strength – and Aphiwe Dyantyi, who got few chances to show his attacking ability.
Overall, the backs ran too laterally and made little impact.
An interested visitor on the day was former coach Johan Ackermann, who is on holiday after the end of the European season for him, where he is now in charge of Gloucester.
The Lions will be happy with the points bagged, and the fact they’re back in South Africa, but they have some huge tests ahead of them; none more so than the Stormers, who’ll be desperate for a win this coming weekend after going down to the Sunwolves on Saturday.
Lions 42 – Tries: Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, Marnus Schoeman, Shaun Reynolds, Lourens Erasmus. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (6).
Brumbies 24 – Tries: Tom Banks (2), Tevita Kuridrani. Conversions: Christian Leali’ifano (3); Penalty: Leali’ifano (1).