JOHANNESBURG – For the majority of the Lions players and management it’s “job well done” and time to refresh and rest.
Swys de Bruin’s men did what they had to at Newlands on Saturday to ensure they go into the June Test break atop the SA Conference with a small, but meaningful lead on the second-placed team, the Jaguares.
After the men from Argentina had beaten the Sharks on Friday night in Buenos Aires the gap on the Lions had closed significantly and the pressure was all on the Lions to also win at Newlands on Saturday.
They did that, 26-23, to lead the Jaguares by six points in the race for top spot. The Lions have 40 points after 14 games, with the Jaguares on 34, after 13. The Sharks (28), Stormers (25) and Bulls (24) are possibly out of the running to feature in the play-offs.
For a second week running the Lions were helped somewhat by their opponents being reduced to 14 men. On Saturday it was Raymond Rhule who was sent off in the second half for dangerous play which allowed the Lions to take advantage of the situation; just as they did the previous week when Rory Arnold was red-carded in the match against the Brumbies.
At Newlands the Lions turned a 17-7 scoreline in their favour, something coach Swys de Bruin said brought him immense pleasure.
“I’m proud of the guys. After the Jaguares’ win (on Friday) we were under some pressure to get an away win to keep ahead of them, so we’re relieved and very pleased,” said De Bruin. “It’s a tough place to come and get a win.”
The win ensured the Lions kept going their unbeaten run against South African teams, going back to May 2015. Saturday’s win made it 21 on the trot for the Lions.
De Bruin’s men again scored several tries, this time four to the Stormers’ two, with replacement hooker Corne Fourie, pictured, getting two, and one each for Nic Groom and Madosh Tambwe. The try-scoring feats by his team are something De Bruin is especially proud about.
“Look, the red card helped a bit, it changed the momentum for us, but those things happen,” said De Bruin. “But the fact we again scored more tries (than them), that’s a team thing and one of the stats we set out to be top of. We’ve now scored 68 which is a blessing; also we’re first in the statistic for defenders beaten ... another area we set out to achieve.”
The Lions were reduced to playing with their third choice hooker early on in the game when Robbie Coetzee was forced off with injury, with Fourie - a retreaded prop - grabbing his chance with two maul tries. The Lions got two in this fashion, again proving how well organised and deadly they are from five metres out.
The good news is first choice No 2 Malcolm Marx is set to be back after the June break and available for the final two pool games, against the Sharks and Bulls. Also, Warren Whiteley is almost certain to be back by then as well, and so, too is it expected scrumhalf Ross Cronje will be starting again.
It wasn’t a pretty win at Newlands, but the Lions got the job done and will now enjoy a month off. That is, the players who’re not involved with the Boks and De Bruin, who will act as an attack consultant for Rassie Erasmus’ team over the next few weeks.