On a weekend when their South African Conference rivals – the Bulls, Sharks and Jaguares – all failed to win, it was the Lions who managed to register a vital victory, which allowed them to move away from the foot of the table into fourth place, above the Stormers, who were not in action this weekend.
The Lions survived some anxious moments late in their Super Rugby match against the Waratahs but managed to hold on for a close, hard-fought 29-28 win in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon. Both teams scored four tries at Emirates Airline Park.
The opening half was a fast, open affair with several missed tackles which led to three tries by both sides. The Waratahs converted all three of their tries which saw them go into halftime with a two-point advantage at 21-19.
The teams scored one try piece in the second half but it was a successful penalty goal by the Lions’ replacement back Shaun Reynolds that finally secured victory.
NSW scrumhalf Nick Phipps opened the scoring for the visitors and he was followed by Michael Hooper and Rob Simmons, with Bernard Foley slotting all three conversion kicks. Springbok wing Aphiwe Dyantyi grabbed the home team’s first try, while Stephan Lewies and Kwagga Smith also went over for two more home tries.
After the break, Springbok wing Courtnall Skosan scored from a sweeping move while Tom Staniforth crashed over for the Waratahs’ fourth try of the afternoon.
Saturday’s victory saw them move to fourth place on the local log with 26 points from 11 games and six wins. The Lions host the Highlanders next Saturday while the Waratahs now travel to Brisbane for their Australian derby with the Reds.
The defending champions scored four tries in the first half to lead by 26-6 at the break, and proceeded to score three more in the second half for a commanding victory. Crusaders flyhalf Richie Mo’unga gave a lively performance for the visitors while their speedy right wing Sevu Reece helped himself to a hat-trick of tries.
The first half was a fast and frantic affair and it was the Crusaders who made their intentions clear right from the start by speeding up play and not allowing the home side any time to settle. They used quick lineout throws to unsettle the home side and clever kick passes to stretch the defence, while their finishing was also clinical.
The Bulls would not have been satisfied by this performance, on the eve of their four-match Australasian tour.
A fortunate bounce of the ball – which looped over the head of Handre Pollard – allowed Mo’unga to run in for the first of two tries. He was followed over the line by Mitchell Dunshea (lock), who scored his maiden Super Rugby try, and Reece.
The home team replied with two Pollard penalty goals in an otherwise forgettable opening 40 minutes, which left them with a mountain to climb against the rampaging Crusaders.
Reece opened the scoring in the second half for his second try and to put his side in an even bigger commanding lead. The right wing scored a third one just after the hour mark when he jumped high into the air to collect another clever cross field kick to score try number six for the visitors.
All Blacks lock Scott Barrett completed the scoring for the visitors when he finished off a clever lineout move. Midfielder Burger Odendaal scored a consolation try for the Bulls, who simply made too many errors and missed too many tackles.
Meanwhile, the Sharks gave another impressive performance on the road but they unfortunately went down 29-23 to the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday morning (SA time) in their last Super Rugby tour match through Australasia.
It was an entertaining fixture between two evenly matched teams, with the men from Waikato taking a 17-13 lead into the break through two tries and a penalty goal. The Chiefs eventually scored four tries, three conversions and a penalty goal, while the Durbanites replied with two converted tries and three penalty goals.
The Sharks did extremely well to play themselves back into a potential winning position and led 23-17 with just under 20 minutes to go – the result of good defence, powerful forward surges and good tactical kicking from Curwin Bosch.
However, two quick tries in the last 13 minutes tilted the momentum and scoreboard in favour of the Kiwis. Chiefs midfielder Anton Leonard-Brown dotted down before halfback and interim-captain Brad Weber scored another try straight from the restart.
The Chiefs led 29-23 going into the final few minutes, but the Sharks turned over possession deep inside their own half, and in a tense finish, the visitors forced the men from Waikato to defend for 18 phases before Bosch made an unfortunate handling error after the fulltimee hooter.
The Sharks can be very pleased with the overall outcome of their three-match tour which started with a win over the Waratahs in Sydney and a draw against the Crusaders in Christchurch. They now return to Durban for a well-earned break next weekend and then resume action when they host the Lions on 25 May in another big local derby.
The South African conference continues to be highly contested – is one team ready to take control heading into the final weeks of the competition?
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