Johan Ackermann’s team were, in a word, sensational as they racked up their fifth win in six matches, this time disposing of a game but ultimately outplayed Sharks side.
But it could just as easily have been a heart-breaking defeat for the hosts. After dominating the second period, which was played predominantly in the Sharks’ 22m area, the visitors scored a converted 78th-minute try by replacement prop Thomas du Toit to close to within two points of the Lions and then in the final minute Fred Zeilinga had a 50m penalty shot which, had it sailed over, would have won the game for the men from Durban. It sailed wide.
The Lions are now well-set to push for a top six, and play-off, place when they return to action after their bye this weekend. It will be a sweet and highly satisfying week off for the Lions, who have given it their all in the last month and half.
There were heroes aplenty in the home side, but anyone who watched the game will know it was one mighty team effort. Sure, there were mistakes by the hosts, such as the poor defensive organisation that resulted in Renaldo Bothma and Lwazi Mvovo scoring tries in the first half, and the lineout didn’t function as well as Ackermann would have hoped for, but let’s take nothing away from their attacking performance that ultimately won them the game.
After an enterprising start by the Sharks, the Lions took a 6-0 lead after 20 minutes, but the visitors hit back through the Bothma and Mvovo tries and were well on top as the first half drew to a close. The Sharks played more structured rugby, looked composed and also showed great attacking intent at the back. Zeilinga was good at No 10, while S’bura Sithole, Mvovo and Odwa Ndungane caused all sorts of problems for the Lions’ backs. It will be concerning to Ackermann that the Sharks’ first-half tries came directly from first-phase possession – a scrum and a lineout – and one would have expected the defensive lines to have been better.
Crucially, the Lions got a five-pointer back before the break, Howard Mnisi going over after some excellent build-up play by the team.
But if the Lions appeared to be somewhat rattled and feeling the pressure at half-time, they kicked into gear in the second spell. Faf de Klerk, who was a menace throughout the time he was on the field, and Harold Vorster, who also produced his best performance yet in a Lions jersey, scored inside the first 10 minutes of the restart to see their side into a 23-14 lead.
The Lions were now playing with plenty of fire and they kept the Sharks pegged in their territory and they battled to get out. It didn’t help that the visitors again lost a player to ill-discipline – this time centre Andre Esterhuizen – and they eventually ran out of time to haul in the Lions.
It was a five-star performance from Ackermann’s men, while for the Sharks there were glimpses of what they’re capable of, but they’re still some way off their best. - The Sunday Independent
Jacques van der Westhuyzen
Lions (11) 23
Tries: Mnisi, De Klerk, Vorster; Conversion: Jantjies; Penalties: Jantjies (2)
Sharks (14) 21
Tries: Bothma, Mvovo, Du Toit; Conversions: Zeilinga (3)
Original source: Lions claw back to win thriller