JOHANNESBURG – The under-pressure Lions got their Super Rugby campaign back on track with a hard-fought, edge-of-the-seat 29-28 win against the Waratahs at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon.
It took a 68th-minute penalty by replacement flyhalf Shaun Reynolds to help the Lions get over line in this entertaining, but error-strewn round 13 match.
It came on the back of a difficult few weeks for the Lions, who had to deal with several off-the-field matters involving two of their coaches, Swys de Bruin and Joey Mongalo.
But the bye week preceding this fixture seemed to galvanise the team, who were probably just better than their opponents on the day.
With the win – the Lions’ sixth in 11 matches – they have moved up to fourth in the tightly contested SA Conference table with 26 points.
The Sharks currently lead the way with 29, but they have played a game more than the Lions.
The all-action “I-score-you-score” sequence in the first half – and which really continued throughout the 80 minutes – started as early as the fourth minute when visiting No 9 Nick Phipps crossed the whitewash.
It was the first of at least three tries the Lions conceded that could and should have been prevented.
But poor tackling and an inability to clear their lines cost them dearly, and it would prove so again later on.
But the Lions hit back in the 12th minute when Aphiwe Dyantyi ran a good line and took a short pass from Elton Jantjies to get his team going, but before the fans were done cheering, the Waratahs had crossed the tryline for a second time.
This time it was captain Michael Hooper who scored, and again it was down to some poor defensive work by the home team.
And then before the first quarter was up the fourth try had been scored, through Lions lock Stephan Lewies, who got the ball down after a scrappy lineout win and drive.
There was no much between the teams at that stage, even though the visitors seemed to play with freedom, while the Lions looked nervous and almost scared to have a go.
In the 27th minute, the see-saw affair continued when Rob Simmons scored his team’s third try.
And then just before the break, it was Kwagga Smith’s turn to get his team’s third, after diving on a well executed grubber kick by centre Harold Vorster, who enjoyed a good outing in his first game back in several weeks.
The Lions took the lead for the first time soon after the second half had got under way, wing Courtnall Skosan finishing off a wonderful counter-attack by the hosts in which several players handled the ball.
But soon after the Waratahs were back in front, when lock Tom Staniforth finished off a flowing move when the Waratahs attacked with pace and spread the ball wide.
The Lions’ defensive system was again badly exposed.
Lions v Waratahs | Super Rugby 2019 Rd 13 Highlights— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) May 11, 2019
A see-sawing encounter in Johannesburg has seen the @LionsRugbyCo prevail 29-28 over the @NSWWaratahs.#SuperRugby #LIOvWAR pic.twitter.com/IucsTiJ94t
Reynolds then slotted what would be the winning penalty in the 68th minute.
The Lions are back in the winner’s circle, if only for now, and they’ll take plenty of heart from much of what they did in the game.
But they’ll also know they made far too many errors – mainly in their handling and failure to protect the ball in contact – for them to feel confident going into this week’s match against the Highlanders.
Lions 29 – Tries: Aphiwe Dyantyi, Stephan Lewies, Kwagga Smith, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalty: Shaun Reynolds (1).
Waratahs 28 – Tries: Nick Phipps, Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4).@jacq_west