Captain Warren Whiteley has underlined his influence and importance to the Lions, returning from a long-term injury to lead his side to a 23-17 Super Rugby victory over a fast-finishing Chiefs in Hamilton.
Whiteley had missed six games due to a muscle tear in his chest and the South Africans had not looked the same side who’d made the past three Super finals.
Carlu Sadie and winger Aphiwe Dyantyi scored tries on Friday for the Lions, who snuffed out any late comeback when Elton Jantjies slotted a 79th-minute drop goal.
Winger Sean Wainui, prop Nepo Laulala and replacement Tumua Manu scored tries in the last 20 minutes for the Chiefs, who only came alive in the final quarter after a 30-metre burst by scrumhalf Neil Weber had set up Wainui’s try.
Virtually all of the Lions’ first-half points had been due to the influence of tighthead prop Sadie, who constantly had his opposite Angus Ta’avao under pressure.
Ta’avao, normally at tighthead, had been forced to the loosehead side of the scrum due to an injury crisis at the Chiefs and also had trouble last week against the Blues.
Sadie was able to earn two scrum penalties that Jantjies converted to give his side a 6-0 lead before a third set up an attacking lineout and series of drives that ultimately ended with the prop crashing over for a 36th-minute try.
Dyantyi pushed the score out near half-time after a deft kick behind the defensive line by No.8 Whiteley gave the visitors a 20-0 lead at the break.
Weber sparked a Chiefs fightback when he darted down the blindside and turned the Lions’ defence around to set up their first try to Wainui.
That attack sparked the Chiefs with Laulala smashing over to give the home side their second within three minutes.
Tumua continued home hopes when he scored their third try with four minutes remaining after another sweeping movement, but a Chiefs turnover gave the ball back to the Lions and set up Jantjies’ drop goal.
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