Cape Town - The Lions held on to claim a vital 23-17 Super Rugby victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
As the scoreline suggests, this was a closely contested match although the Lions were the dominant side during the opening half and raced into a 20-0 lead at half-time before the Chiefs fought back in the second stanza.
The Lions started the match without coach Swys de Bruin who flew home due to personal reasons, but they welcomed the return of captain Warren Whiteley, while Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies were late additions to the starting team.
Jantjies starred at inside centre, while Marx was his ever-impressive self in the No 2 jersey.
In the end, the Chiefs outscored the victors by three tries although brilliant goal-kicking from Jantjies proved the difference between the sides in the end as he contributed 13 points via two penalties, two conversions and a drop goal. Their other points came courtesy of tries from Carlu Sadie and Aphiwe Dyantyi.
For the Chiefs, Sean Wainui, Nepo Laulala and Tumua Manu scored tries and Marty McKenzie added a conversion.
The visitors’ forwards also deserve praise as they delivered a dominant display especially in the tight exchanges which laid the platform to a deserved triumph.
De Bruin’s absence did not seem to affect the men from Johannesburg during the early stages of the game and they opened the scoring in the 10th minute via a penalty from Jantjies.
The next 20 minutes was characterised by plenty of end-to-end action but no points were scored during this period. The Lions eventually extended their lead on the half-hour mark courtesy of another penalty from Jantjies.
Five minutes later, the visitors took the ball through several phases after a lineout deep inside Chiefs territory, before Sadie crossed for the opening try from close quarters.
And just before half-time Whiteley stabbed a grubber kick through which Dyantyi gathered before diving over for his a deserved try which Jantjies converted and the Lions had their tails up at the break.
The Chiefs needed a response but they had to wait until midway through the second half when Sean Wainui scored their opening try after a brilliant run from Brad Weber in the build-up.
That score seemed to reinvigorate the home side as shortly afterwards Wainui launched a superb attack from inside his half which was rounded off by Laulala.
Marty McKenzie failed with both conversion attempts but he made up for those misses when he launched a teasing cross-field kick which was gathered by Alex Nankivell, who offloaded to Manu in the build-up to the Chiefs’ third try.
McKenzie added the extras which narrowed the gap to three points but Jantjies sealed his side’s win when he landed his drop goal in the game’s dying moments.
In next weekend's action, the Lions face the Crusaders in Christchurch (Friday, April 26), while the Chiefs travel to Wellington to duel the Hurricanes (Saturday, April 27).
Tries: Sean Wainui, Nepo Laulala, Tumua Manu
Conversion: Marty McKenzie
Tries: Carlu Sadie, Aphiwe Dyantyi
Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2)
Penalties: Jantjies (2)
Drop goal: Jantjies
15 Jack Debreczeni, 14 Sean Wainui, 13 Alex Nankivell, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Ataata Moeakiola, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber (captain), 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Mitchell Brown, 4 Tyler Ardron, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Angus Ta'avao
Substitutes: 16 Samisoni Taukei'aho, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Sosefo Kautai, 19 Jesse Parete, 20 Pita Gus Sowakula, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Tumua Manu, 23 Shaun Stevenson
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Elton Jantjies, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Sti Sithole
Substitutes: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Frans Van Wyk, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Franco Naude, 23 Ruan Combrinck