Lions replacement hooker Armand van der Merwe burst over from close range in the dying seconds of the match to give his side their first Super Rugby win at home this season and their fourth in five matches.
The victory comes after the Lions won three of their four matches in Australasia and, while many thought Warren Whiteley’s side may be a little flat after their travel back to South Africa, they were anything but … As we’ve come to expect of this Lions team, they fight to the very end, never believing they’re beaten, and so it proved last night.
After a rip-roaring game that saw flyhalves Elton Jantjies and Jacques-Louis Potgieter trading penalties, it looked as if the Bulls had won it when Potgieter slotted a 78th minute penalty. It gave the visitors an 18-15 lead, and it looked as if the Lions would lose to their northern neighbours for the first time at Ellis Park in four matches.
But Whiteley’s team kicked off quickly, they piled the pressure on the Bulls and won a penalty when the visiting backs stepped offside. Not content to kick at goal and settle for a draw, replacement scrumhalf Faf de Klerk took the quick tap and fed Van der Merwe, who burst through three Bulls player to score.
It may not have been a try-fest, but it was a thriller, with both teams enjoying plenty of ball and asking many questions, both up front and at the back.
As was the case throughout the contest, there was precious little to choose between the sides at the break, with both enjoying good periods in the opening half.
Considering the conditions weren’t perfect – there was intermittent rain throughout – the handling was pretty good and the Lions especially looked to run the ball as often as possible.
By contrast, the visitors opted to keep things a little tighter, with their forwards doing much of the ball-carrying.
After a strong start by the Bulls when they carried the ball through several phases from the kick-off, but didn’t come close to crossing the whitewash, Potgieter eventually tried a drop-goal but that flew wide of the mark. Having withstood the onslaught, the Lions hit back and were 6-0 up after two penalties by Jantjies by the 20-minute mark.
Potgieter missed a further two penalty attempts and it appeared the Bulls would come away with nothing in the first half despite just shading the contest.
The more the clash went on, the more they started dominating the collisions and it wasn’t long before they were rewarded. Potgieter struck two penalties to level the score by the 35-minute mark and at the break it was three penalties to the Bulls.
The second period replicated the first with the two No10s exchanging penalties, with neither side ever more than three points ahead. On four occasions the scores were level … until the dramatic finish when the Bulls thought Potgieter had won it for them, just for the Lions to snatch it at the death.
Lions: (6) 22
Try: Van der Merwe; Conversion: Jantjies; Penalties: Jantjies (5)
Bulls (9) 18
Penalties: Potgieter (6) – The Sunday Independent
Original source: Van the man for big occasion