September 22 – The MTN Golden Lions won an exciting Absa Currie Cup match when they beat the Sharks 28-22 after scoring 22 points in the second half and holding on desperately for the last seven minutes at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday night.
The win by the defending champions put them three points clear of the Sharks on the Currie Cup log after the two teams had gone into the match tied at the top. And again flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who was named Man of the Match, excelled by kicking six penalties from his first six attempts to keep the Lions in touch and played a polished game generally.
It was a match marked by too many penalties and turnovers by both sides to make it a classic, but there were thrills aplenty with four tries from far out. Ultimately, a good second half in which they overturned a ten-point deficit at halftime, largely made up for a somewhat loose first half by the Lions where the Sharks were slightly better off in the possession and territory stakes.
In the end, however, the Lions had done enough – and their second-half defence, where they hardly missed a tackle while the Sharks conceded the bulk of their 25 misses, and good discipline when it counted won it for them.
The Sharks went into halftime at 16-6 to the good – and the Lions have themselves to blame for the deficit after first weathering a very difficult first 12 minutes before they started giving as good as they got just to relax their grip in the last ten minutes.
The Lions scrummed well throughout and put the visitors under all sorts of pressure to even win a tight-head in the first half, but the lineout woes of earlier the season again manifested. Three screw throws, two of them in a strong attacking position, went astray and the Sharks took good advantage from it.
However, the two Sharks’ tries both came after missed tackles, the second ironically as the Sharks wheeled the scrum just enough not to be blown up for going through 90 degrees. Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach made full use of the space and went around Deon Helberg who, in all fairness, had little chance of stopping him.
From a scoreline of 6-3 after 30 minutes following the initial Sharks onslaught, struggle, the Lions were suddenly ten points behind with the first try coming from the Sharks own 22 as Louis Ludik, Lwazi Mvovo and Keegan Daniel were at the thrust of the try finished off in fine style by Odwa Ndungane.
The Lions set off with a purpose after the restart, but three times their patience and control deserted them after building for more than ten phases before they turned over possession. However, the pressure was enough to bring them reward in the form of three penalties by Elton Jantjies. This took them to a single point behind at 16-15 after 53 minutes with his Jantjies’ successful penalty from five attempts.
Three minutes later Meyer Bosman landed a penalty after the Sharks had shown their teeth with a dangerous attack in which Daniel was again prominent (19-15). Bosman repeated the dose two minutes later and the Sharks went seven points ahead at 22-15.
The Sharks now looked as threatening as in the first ten minutes of the match, but their discipline, which let them down too often, was punished with a long line penalty by Jantjies. This brought relief for the Lions and put them on attack in the Sharks 22. From there the Lions again mauled their way forward until the Sharks transgressed on their own line. A sixth Jantjies penalty made it 20-18 to the Sharks with 15 minutes to play.
A TMO referral for a Lions knock-on in their own half was turned down and the try by Ruan Combrinck awarded following a chip kick in his own half by Andries Coetzee. He re-gathered before sending his wing on his run-in from 35 metres out. Jantjies missed from touch – but the Lions had made up the halftime leeway of 10 points and went one better to take the lead at 23-22.
Virtually from the kick-off the Sharks botched a pass after a ruck. Jaco Kriel pounced on the loose ball and went on a run from halfway, handing off Riaan Viljoen and outsprinting the Sharks backs. Jantjies missed again, and with seven minutes remaining it was 28-22 to the Lions.
The Sharks, however, were not done yet. They pounded away at the Lions’ tryline for the next five minutes with a penalty and two scrums within five meters of scoring and botched all three opportunities, with a good Lions scrum and then defence keeping the Sharks at bay.
The Lions finally held the Sharks up in their last drive with ten seconds remaining, got the scrum feed for the held-up maul and safely kicked it out.
MTN Golden Lions: Try: Ruan Combrinck, Jaco Kriel. Penalties: Jantjies (6)
Sharks; Tries: Odwa Ndungane, Cobus Reinach. Conversions: Penalty: Bosman (4)