At last – Lions show they can roar!

2016-07-27 06:00

THE best kind of rugby match is one that keeps spectators on edge with seesaw movement almost to the very death. Such was the Super Rugby game that kept a wildly excited Ellis Park crowd for three-quarters and more of the Lions’ 42-25 defeat of New Zealand’s Crusaders last weekend.

It wasn’t clinical but it came at times close to being so – a cut and thrust affair that has donated coach Johan Ackermann’s lads a strong chance of taking yet another step forward – at home ground Ellis Park, what’s more – in the Super Rugby semi-finals this coming weekend. It’s a chance that may well put them in this year’s Super Rugby final.

What an incredible seesaw battle it was! Unbelievably the game’s second minute had not yet reached completion before the Lions were on the scoreboard. In the sixth minute they were taking another chunk out of it with fly-half Elton Jantjies supplying the conversion to give the home-side a 12-0 lead, and then 15-0 with a penalty in the 14th minute.
Then at last the Crusaders got on the board with a penalty and a converted try to close the gap. But not content, on the very point of the whistle signalling halftime, the Lions’ Malcolm Marx scored and again Jantjies supplied the conversion bonus. Halftime 22-10.

At 28-20 it seemed to be all over bar the shouting. But no, not content with things as they stood, Jantjies sends over a perfect drop-goal. But the Crusaders come hammering back; in fact, for a considerable period of the second half Crusaders began to play with vigour that had the Lions defending desperately.

With 20 minutes remaining – miraculously, it seems – the Crusaders are back in the game with the home-side’s lead reduced to 28-20. Anybody’s game!

But somehow from the very depth of their despair the Lions began once more to roar. This was it. Somehow managing to put an end to a period of poor, sloppy defence, the Lions came roaring back with two fine tries. The first came from Ruan Combrinck, closely followed by a Ross Cronje touchdown. The smile on Ackermann’s face said it all. They were home and dry now, heading for the home straight and a memorable 42-25 victory.

At the other end of the scale, the Sharks flattered only to deceive. When last did a team in any major tournament fail to score a single point at its quarterfinal stage? Be that as it may, the team’s fearsome black and white emblem must surely be blushing at its ineptitude this year. Having snuck into this year’s Super Rugby showpiece through the backdoor, so to speak, their muddled – indeed, feeble – effort in going down 41-0 to the Hurricanes in Wellington could only be described as a catastrophe.

Everything went wrong almost from kickoff. Ironic indeed that it should follow an avowed intention this very week to put KZN rugby back on the map. Even more ironic that this fiasco should coincide with the return to rugby of Gary Teichman, who is set to take over the coaching reins. It’s a mammoth task even for one as talented and dedicated as the former Springbok captain.

A mammoth task awaits the great No 8, but if there’s one person who can put the province’s rugby wrongs to rights it could be Teichman – not only a gentleman but a rugby scholar to boot.

So here’s the line-up for a tantalising weekend ahead: Lions v Highlanders at Ellis Park; Hurricanes v Chiefs in Wellington. Good luck to the four of them! Weird quotes? You’ll have to wait till next week!

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