Sharks fall asleep in the second half to allow Lions to seal come-from-behind win

Gerbrandt Grobler of the Sharks claims a high ball during their United Rugby Championship game against the Lions at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday

Gerbrandt Grobler of the Sharks claims a high ball during their United Rugby Championship game against the Lions at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday. Photo: Steve Haag Sports/INPHO/Shutterstock

Published Jan 6, 2024


A last-gasp rolling maul try that capped off a fine second-half comeback propelled the Lions to their first-ever United Rugby Championship (URC) win, and a first win in Durban since 2017, over the Sharks on Saturday evening.

Former Sharks centre and current Lions captain Marius Louw put his head at the back of a devastating rolling maul to go over for a converted try that put the side in the lead for the first time in the game that eventually secured the win.

But the 20-18 victory, their fifth in all competitions, didn’t come without drama right at the death.

The Sharks’ Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth turned over possession and won a penalty, but replacement flyhalf Boeta Chamberlain had a difficult attempt at goal to seal the game for his side. He failed to convert the kick, though, and after it sailed past the posts, the Lions players celebrated their famous win by pumping fists in the air.

The Lions deserve all the plaudits after fighting back from a halftime deficit of 18-3 in front of almost 20 000 people in the Shark Tank. It was their first-ever win in the URC over the Sharks and the first victory at Kings Park since 2017. The Lions have now broken their duck and have beaten all three South African sides in the competition.

How the Sharks threw this one away after their healthy half-time lead, only they can answer. Winger Makazole Mapimpi and scrumhalf Grant Williams rounded off brilliant team tries in the first half. Their dominance in the first 40 minutes was undisputed, but the old ailment of failing to convert opportunities curbed them from scoring more points in that time.

How they worked the space for Mapimpi’s try showed exactly what the team is capable of when they get going. And Williams sniping around the blindside after a touchline ruck to dive over the line with two Lions defenders unable to stop him, showed how clinical they can be on the attack.

But that didn’t break the fighting spirit of the Lions. And their comeback is a sign of players who are in sync with one another and a team with winning momentum.

They stayed in the fight throughout the game, even in the first half when they were down badly on the scoreboard. They looked good on the attack and their scrum had the home side going backwards a couple of times. It’s just the lineouts of the Lions that caused them some problems with throws going astray.

In the second half, though, two secure lineouts delivered two strong rolling mauls. The first came after the Sharks’ five-lock Gebrandt Grobler pulled a maul down and was sent to the sin bin with a penalty try awarded, and the second one was scored by Louw coming in from the backs to drive over at the back of the maul.

Despite struggling in the first half, Lions players like outside centre Henco van Wyk, captain Louw, and flyhalf Sanele Nohamba were sharp at the back. So too winger Edwill van der Merwe, the couple of times he had a run with the ball. But the defence of their pack — prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye, flankers Ruan Venter and Emmanuel Tshituka — was excellent in stopping the Sharks’ runners at times. Etzebeth was smashed back a couple of times and so were a couple of his teammates.

How the Lions capitalised on the yellow card probably turned the game around. They were thwarted a few times before the line, especially when Etzebeth pulled down a maul that just started to rumble, but that did not deter the Jozi side.

They fought until the death to keep the Sharks at bay to secure a famous win in Durban, and to start their 2024 and a tough January of rugby with tails in the air. The Sharks are still at the bottom of the URC log, and will now have to find some winning momentum in the European Challenge Cup to get their season back on track.


Sharks 18 (18) – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Grant Williams. Conversion: Curwin Bosch. Penalty goal: Bosch. Drop goal: Bosch.

Lions 20 (3) – Tries: Penalty try, Marius Louw. Conversion: Sanele Nohamba. Penalty goals: Sanele Nohamba (2).

IOL Sport