Lions give Storm­ers the shakes

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing their cre­den­tials as ti­tle con­tenders with a mo­men­tous win against the Chiefs last week­end, the Storm­ers found out the hard way that the path to Su­per Rugby dom­i­na­tion lies in be­ing the best team in your own coun­try first.

Still com­ing down from an emo­tional win against the Chiefs, they felt vin­di­cated in choos­ing the direc­tion they are tak­ing this sea­son, but Rob­bie Fleck’s men sim­ply ran into a team that has a more in­ti­mate knowl­edge of where they ul­ti­mately hope to end up.

Jo­han Ack­er­mann’s Lions, last year’s fi­nal­ists, were well rested af­ter their bye last week­end and put on a mas­ter show by us­ing all the weapons at their dis­posal to win the game – their pack of for­wards putting in an im­mense shift to com­ple­ment a de­fen­sive ef­fort that had last stand writ­ten all over it.

The mo­ment that said every­thing about the vis­i­tors’ de­fence on the day was the stretch be­tween half-time and the 50th minute, when the Storm­ers were camped on the Lions’ try line and, time af­ter time, found them­selves get­ting re­pelled, with El­ton Jan­tjies mak­ing five tack­les in that pe­riod.

In fact, the first time the hosts scored points in the sec­ond half was through SP Marais’ long-range penalty in the 70th minute, which was fol­lowed by a nod to how clin­i­cal the Lions are be­cause they hit back through a Syl­vian Mahuza try to shut off the game as a con­test.

But the game – a fre­netic and of­ten too phys­i­cal derby – was won by their pack, es­pe­cially the tight five. The pi­ano shifters were all grunt in the rather com­pet­i­tive scrums and metro­nomic in their line-out ac­cu­racy.

As a col­lec­tive, the Lions’ eight were tire­less, mak­ing their ac­quain­tance with ev­ery blade of grass at New­lands by chas­ing ev­ery lost cause and avail­ing them­selves for yet another carry into the Storm­ers’ blue de­fen­sive wall.

The vis­i­tors’ stand­out per­form­ers were hooker Mal­colm Marx, lock An­dries Fer­reira, scrum half Ross Cronje and Harold Vorster, who was pressed into ser­vice af­ter a sus­pected knee in­jury ended Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg’s af­ter­noon early in the game.

Marx was a wreck­ing ball in con­tact; Fer­reira a source of line-out riches and in­dus­try in the tight loose; Cronje the pic­ture of com­po­sure in all the car­nage around him; and Vorster not only matched Janse van Rens­burg’s de­ci­sive an­gles of run, but had the added bonus of softer hands and a silkier pass­ing game.

For their part, the Storm­ers – who scored another eye-catch­ing try by Dil­lyn Leyds – were let down by their dis­ci­pline and fluffed their tac­ti­cal lines in the first half, a start they wouldn’t re­cover from against a team that knows how to man­age a game.

The re­sult means the Lions, hav­ing al­ready smacked down one pre­tender to their South African throne in the Sharks, top the South African group and the Africa Two Con­fer­ence.

Ear­lier in Bloem­fontein, the Chee­tahs blew an early 24-0 lead and went down 41-27 to the Chiefs af­ter leav­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties on the ta­ble and wilt­ing in their own con­di­tions in the last 50 min­utes of the game, in which they were outscored 41-3 by the vis­i­tors.

In Pre­to­ria, the Bulls were scrappy in earn­ing only their sec­ond win in the com­pe­ti­tion in seven starts with a 26-13 win over the Jaguares in the fi­nal game of the round, with fly half Han­drè Pol­lard kick­ing 16 of the points.

PHOTO: PETRI OESCHGER / GALLO IM­AGES

CHARGE EW Viljoen of the Storm­ers holds on to the ball as he’s tack­led by the Lions dur­ing their Su­per Rugby match at New­lands Sta­dium in Cape Town yes­ter­day

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