Lions’ road to the fi­nal wasn’t with­out a few bumpy patches

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

run­ning coach Jo­han Ack­er­mann opted to send a weak­ened side to Ar­gentina – some­thing that cost his team from pos­si­bly host­ing the fi­nal in 2016. Ni­co­las Sanchez was ex­cel­lent for his team, con­tribut­ing 20 points, as they dom­i­nated the Lions.

The free- run­ning Lions were at their at­tack­ing best and the big hero was wing Court­nall Skosan, who got four five-point­ers in a dom­i­nant out­ing for the hosts. Janse van Rens­burg got his fifth try of the sea­son, while Mal­colm Marx and Jaco Kriel also got onto the score­board. Reds No 10 Quade Cooper was red-carded for a high hit on Janse van Rens­burg.

The Lions raced into a com­mand­ing 35-12 lead at the break on the back of qual­ity per­for­mances by Mal­colm Marx, Jaco Kriel and Franco Mostert, but man­aged to score only one more try in the sec­ond pe­riod. They were never trou­bled on the score­board, touch­ing down six times; wing Ma­dosh Tambwe get­ting two tries.

The first of three meet­ings be­tween the teams dur­ing the sea­son was as tight as it gets in a lo­cal derby. In a ding-dong bat­tle, with plenty of ag­gres- sion and a yel­low card or two, the Lions “saved” their day with a late Jaco Kriel try, four min­utes from time. Cur­win Bosch was out­stand­ing at fly­half for the visi­tors.

It was one of the most hyped matches of the com­pe­ti­tion, pit­ting the 2016 run­ners- up against a Storm­ers team that was com­ing off a win against the Chiefs. South Africa couldn’t wait. Sadly for Storm­ers fans, their team were hum­bled four tries to one by the visi­tors who dom­i­nated most as­pects of the match.

The Lions’ phi­los­o­phy of “play to the fi­nal whis­tle” came to the fore once again as they had to rely on a 77th minute penalty to get the bet­ter of the men from Ar­gentina.

Ruan Ack­er­mann scored a try mo­ments ear­lier, with Jan­tjies slot­ting the touch­line con­ver­sion to set up a thrilling fin­ish. Luck­ily for the home team they got the bet­ter of the Jaguares this time.

Jan­tjies scored his team’s third – and, cru­cially, bonus point – try on the fi­nal whis­tle as the Lions kicked off their trip to Aus­tralia on the per­fect note. It was far from the per­fect per­for­mance though, but the tourists got the job done. All the Force could man­age in a rather for­get­table match were five penal­ties by Ian Prior.

Jo­han Ack­er­mann’s de­mo­li­tion ma­chine surged for­ward, ex­pos­ing the mul­ti­tude of prob­lems in Aus­tralian rugby. The Rebels were no match for a Lions team smelling blood and the visi­tors ran in six tries and were awarded a penalty try, too. Ross Cronje en­joyed a mem­o­rable out­ing, as did Kwagga Smith, both of whom bagged tries.

This was with­out ques­tion one of the hard­est fought games in the sea­son. The Brumbies’ hold-on-to-the-bal­lat-all-costs ap­proach and de­fen­sive style made at­tack­ing rugby very dif­fi­cult and the Lions found them­selves do­ing plenty of de­fend­ing. Kwagga Smith’s sen­sa­tional break-away try in the sec­ond half sealed the deal for the tourists.

Back on home soil the Lions piled the pres­sure on the Bulls and their coach­ing team with an em­phatic vic­tory at El­lis Park. Wing Ruan Com­brinck, who was rushed into the side at the last minute, re­turned from a long in­jury lay­off to score a brace, as his team ended up scor­ing seven won­der­ful tries. The Bulls were com­pletely out­played by a Lions team on a mis­sion.

The men from Port El­iz­a­beth were in a bit of a pur­ple patch and play­ing some qual­ity rugby so they were cer­tainly not writ­ten off by their hosts. The Lions though proved far too strong, even though hooker Rob­bie Coet­zee was given a red card be­fore half-time. In the end the home team ran in eight tries, with Kwagga Smith grab­bing two of them.

If ever a team on form dished out a hid­ing it was the Lions in their first match back since the June in­ter­na­tional break. Coach Jo­han Ack­er­mann knew his Bok play­ers were in good form and he duly sent them into bat­tle against the visi­tors … after 80 min­utes they’d run in 14 tries, with Ruan Com­brinck get­ting three and Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith two each.

Ear­lier in the day the Hur­ri­canes had beaten the Cru­saders to open the door for the Lions to fin­ish top of the pile and give them home ad­van­tage, but they had to beat the Sharks first. In a fairly dour af­fair (the Sharks weren’t re­ally chas­ing the win as they looked to avoid a trip to Christchurch for a quar­ter-fi­nal) the Lions came up tops, scor­ing three tries.

The Lions were far from their best, but the Sharks were very much in top form. It was game three be­tween the teams in the sea­son and the visi­tors got their tac­tics spot on and came oh so close to caus­ing a ma­jor up­set. Jan­tjies missed sev­eral kicks at goal which put his team un­der pres­sure, but Ruan Com­brinck landed a 55m mon­ster in the 78th minute to win it for the Lions.

Fans won’t forget this match for a very long time. The Lions were down and out after 30 min­utes, trail­ing 22-3 and be­ing played off their feet. But a Jac­ques van Rooyen try on the stroke of half-time gave the home team hope and they came out in the fi­nal 40 min­utes and blew the Canes away. In a stun­ning come­back the Lions scored 41 points to seven in the fi­nal 42 min­utes.

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