JOHANNESBURG – It would not be completely unfair to declare that very few would have expected the result that unfolded at Emirates Airline Park between the Lions and Western Province on Wednesday night.
After a grimace-inducing opening defeat to the Pumas last week Friday, not much was expected from the Joburg-based side. An improved team performance for sure, but certainly not the confident and commanding showing that characterised 70 minutes of the match.
The opposite could be said of the WP, who started off their Currie Cup in emphatic fashion by beating a depleted Bulls side, and they were the favourites to make it two-from-two with victory here.
The Capetownians, however, looked shell-shocked and fitful as the first 20 minutes of the match came to the close. After a brief start where both sides tested each other’s commitment, the Lions took control of the encounter with possession and territory, and from thereon refused to let up.
It was the Lions who opened the scoring account as early as the sixth minute with Sibusiso Sangweni peeling off an attacking maul, beating the Province defenders to crash over the tryline. The 20-year-old clicked nicely with fellow loosies captain Francke Horn and Vincent Tshituka, who were both tireless in their play throughout their encounter.
The Lions pack also enjoyed the better of the set-pieces, the first eight working as a unit to dominate the WP for the majority of the 80 minutes. Their maul was particularly impressive, and resulted in three tries for the home team, and a brace for PJ Botha.
But it was not only the Lions forwards that pitched up in their second match of the Currie Cup. The backline, so toothless in the loss to the Pumas, made a massive contribution – wings Jamba Ulengo and Rabz Maxwane, especially, working harder off the ball. Maxwane played with intent, and his early labours paid off in the 14th minute when he scored the first of two tries, cantering over the whitewash.
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The Lions duly went into the break 24-10 up after Ruben Schomean ended the first 40 off in style for the hosts, crashing over the line for a well deserved lead. With the second half kicking off, the WP were under immense pressure to overturn that deficit, but again it was the Lions who blitzed the visitors, scoring two tries through Botha and an intercept from the speedy Maxwane.
With the urgency of the situation now dire, and trailing 38-10, the WP then entered a 15 minute period in which they put their hosts under immense pressure. They camped out in the Lions 22 and came desperately close to scoring, only for the TMO to judge that there was no conclusive evidence to award the try after both Carlu Sadie and Johan Neethling Fouche’s hands both touched the ball, seemingly at the same time.
The Lions defence was magnificent in this period, soaking up everything their opponents constructed, and there was a roar of appreciation from the sidelines when they finally extricated themselves from their own territory.
Their efforts were soured soon afterwards, however, as they suffered two yellow cards within a minute as both Ruben Schoeman and replacement hooker Jaco Visagie were ordered off the field. What followed was 10 minutes of pain and near-panic as the WP went on the rampage, by first being awarded a penalty try in the 70th minute, and then twice efficirating the 13-man Lions to score through Paul de Wet and Cornel Smit, to close in 38-32.
The Joburgers somehow held on as both teams, now exhausted, tussled for a match winning moment. And it came when the Lions contested for the ball at the right time to win a penalty and the match, the scoreline flattering the visiting team that was outplayed and outmatched in every aspect of the match.
Lions – Tries: Sangweni, Maxwane (2), Botha (2), Schoeman; Conversions: Zeilinga (4).
Yellow Card: Visagie, Schoeman
Western Province – Tries: Augustus, Penalty Try, De Wet, Smit; Conversions: Swiel (2); Penalty: Swiel (2)
Yellow Card: Roos