Johannesburg - The Golden Lions staved off gutsy Griquas side to claim a 29-19 victory in Johannesburg on Saturday to end the round-robin stage of the Currie Cup as the only unbeaten side.
The victory demonstrated the Lions have a wealth of talent at their disposal with a young and inexperienced side selected for the clash to give the first-choice players a rest ahead of next weekend’s home semi-final against the Free State Cheetahs.
While the Lions claimed 10 victories from as many matches, Griquas finish the season at the bottom of the log with a single victory to show for their efforts.
The Sevens players in the Lions team were devastating on attack with Blitzboks Sampie Mastriet and Kwagga Smith each crossing the whitewash.
While the Lions’ plan was to outsmart the visitors with enterprising attacking rugby, Griquas used brute force to bully their way over the advantage line.
The Northern Cape side struck first using the rolling maul to great affect with Carel Greeff peeling to the blindside to score 10 minutes into the encounter, with Gouws Prinsloo converting.
Two minutes later Mastriet found his way over the tryline after fullback Vainon Willis made the initial break before switching with the fleet-footed wing who made a beeline for goal, while flyhalf Jaco van der Walt converted.
The two sides battled for ascendancy but little separated them as they kept each other within an arm’s length and responding well when the other gained the advantage.
Eight minutes from the half-time break the Lions broke the deadlock when Smith received the ball in midfield, bounced a tackle and scored.
Griquas again drew the scores level with a converted try on the whistle for the half-time break as they again muscled their way over the gain line.
From a scrum they set up a few phases to inch closer to the line before captain and scrumhalf Tian Meyer gathered and scored from a ruck metres from the line.
Prinsloo landed the conversion kick to send the sides into the break level on 14 points.
A relentless tussle ensued in the second half where it took 22 minutes before the first points were scored after the restart.
Before Van der Walt got the Lions’ noses in front with a penalty in the 62nd minute after Griquas flank RJ Liebenberg was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on the home side’s scrumhalf Ricky Schroeder.
Two minutes later Lions centre Jacques Nel finished a tantalising passage of play which saw a combination of individual brilliance and great linking play.
Shortly before the line Mastriet managed to free his hand in the tackle to pop the ball to Nel, who had little to do to cross the whitewash, with Van der Walt converting to extend their lead to eight points.
Griquas worked hard to find the breakthrough and after sustained pressure inside the Lions’ 22 they finally found the breakthrough in the 77th minute when replacement scrumhalf Dylon Frylinck broke to the blindside from a scrum to score, while Prinsloo missed with the conversion.
The visitors, however, spilt the ball inside their 22 from the kick-off with Nel pouncing to score with the scoreline slightly flattering the hosts.
The Lions will host the Free State Cheetahs in next weekend's second semi-final, while the Blue Bulls will play Western Province at Loftus in the other semi-final.
15 Vainon Willis, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Gerdus van der Walt, 11 Mark Richards, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ricky Schroeder, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruaan Lerm, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 MB Lusaseni, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith
Substitutes: 16. Mark Pretorius, 17. Jacques van Rooyen, 18. Fabian Booysen, 19. Stephan de Witt, 20. Lohan Jacobs, 21. Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22. Salom Gavor
15 Gouws Prinsloo, 14 Sandile Ngcobo, 13 Ruan Nel, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Ntabeni Dukisa, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Jono Janse van Rensburg, 6 RJ Liebenberg, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Jonathan Adendorf, 3 Stephan Kotze, 2 Sidney Tobias, 1 Danie Mienie
Substitutes: 16 Abraham le Roux, 17 Steph Roberts, 18 Leon Karemaker, 19 Wendal Wehr, 20 Dylon Frylinck, 21 Riaan Viljoen, 22 Jonathan Francke