United Rugby Championship

Lions brains trust on how they turned tables on Munster: A 'street fight' with 146 tackles

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Lions skipper Burger Odendaal on the charge against Munster. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Lions skipper Burger Odendaal on the charge against Munster. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
  • Lions captain Burger Odendaal has hailed their defensive effort in a 23-21 URC win over Munster.
  • The Lions made 146 tackles and missed only six - an impressive 96% tackle success rate.
  • Coach Ivan van Rooyen adds the win was not a polished performance, but a "street fight".

The Lions brains trust was understandably elated after they secured a stunning come-from-behind 23-21 win over Munster at Ellis Park on Saturday.

There were ominous signs when Munster raced to a 14-0 lead in as many minutes. The visitors from Ireland were also 21-10 ahead at half-time and kept that lead right up to the 66th minute.

But the Lions had already started to claw their way back into the contest with terrific defending, with Munster appearing agitated and tired after failing to get any reward for concerted periods of attack.

According to post-game statistics, the Lions made a staggering 146 tackles and missed only six, for an impressive 96% tackle success rate.

In contrast, Munster made only 93 tackles and missed 16 (85%).

Lions skipper Burger Odendaal said afterwards their staunch defence at the start of the second half proved vital.

"It think it was when we were defending for like 15 minutes in our 22. I don't know how many phases it was, but I felt it was massive for us. They came with onslaught after onslaught and our defence stuck - we kept our line," he told reporters.

"They made two metres on one carry and then we pegged them back again. After that phase you could actually see that they were down on their knees... man down. We had a call that we wanted to lift the tempo again, and [even though] we didn't really lift the tempo, we just tried to keep it there. I felt that was a big turning point for us."

Flanker Vincent Tshituka, whose industrious effort saw him claim the player-of-the-match accolade, was the Lions' top defender with 16 tackles.

Odendaal said they worked hard on their defence in recent times.

"It was something of a roller coaster for our defence. When we went overseas we actually defended quite well. We then showed glimpses of good defence when we got back to South Africa. Something we brought up in team-talks was that we concede very easy tries, while we have to work really hard for our tries. I think the boys really worked for each other today.

"We said it was going to take an 85-minute effort and the guys just stuck. We didn't give away easy tries... maybe a couple in the first half but I think the boys just really ground out at the end. It's a massive defensive effort when the team can't get through. You can almost see them getting frustrated and then lose the ball. That [was] massive for our defence."

The Lions also started dominating at scrum time in the second half when they brought on an entire new front row in the form of PJ Botha, JP Smith and Ruan Dreyer.

Coach Ivan van Rooyen said that was about the time the tide started turning in their favour.

"It think with about 30-35 minutes remaining we started to feel we're getting set-piece dominance and in the contact area. But like Burger said, that period of play where they didn't get points and we eventually got a scrum penalty... we could see our energy go up and theirs go down. We felt that if we were clinical enough in the last 20 minutes then we could pull it through."

Midfielder Odendaal, who took over the captaincy in this game from the injured Jaco Kriel, said the front row substitutes made a clear impact.

"I don't know much about scrummaging but I think the guys off the bench made a big difference with that first scrum. They just came on and we got a penalty with the first scrum. I'll have to ask scrum coach Julian (Redelinghuys) if he told the bench something and if they may have done something different and picked up on something but the guys from the bench made a big difference."

Van Rooyen concurred: "I think every guy that came on made a significant difference. I think they needed to be physical. They were exceptional."

While admitting the victory was probably his "most significant" as Lions head coach, Van Rooyen was more pleased with the fight his charges put up.

"I think it was the completely opposite of a polished performance, it was actually a street fight. The attitude the guys brought... especially the last 30 minutes.

"It wasn't a game where everything went smoothly. It was literally 80 minutes of pressure, especially in the contact situations. I think this performance especially will give us confidence going forward, a performance in which we took the gloves off and made it ugly, if I can put it that way."

The win was the Lions' fourth of the season and saw them move up to 13th spot on the standings. Munster, who have won eight from 13 games, remain fourth.

*Note: For several hours Saturday's game, the official statistics had the Lions as making 146 tackles and missing six. That figure has since changed to 139 tackles and seven missed.

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