Lions send strong signal

Sharks coach Dick Muir was not a happy man after watching his team suffer a last-gasp defeat to the resurgent Lions on Saturday.

Muir was far from making excuses after watching his team lose their third Absa Currie Cup encounter this year, 22-21. It is a result that has made the securing of a home semi-final for the Sharks much tougher with six rounds left.

A touchline conversion by former Natal boy Mark Harris in the 77th minute that gave the Lions the slenderest of leads, after it had changed hands no less than six times in the match.

The Sharks proceeded to throw everything into attack, but more solid defence from the Lions kept the visitors out and the final whistle was greeted with scenes of jubilation from coach Eugene Eloff and his assistants as well as on the field.

It was the Lions third win on the trot and kept them in the hunt for a semi-final spot and as the Cheetahs showed last year, once that is achieved anything is possible.

The form team in the country at the moment is arguably Eugene Eloff’s team and they have shown in recent weeks that they are a real threat in this years’ competition.

“I think we are better than that,” Muir said. “The Lions turned over possession five times in the last five minutes and that is where we lost the game.”

Muir said the Lions were a vastly improved outfit from their first round encounter in Durban. “This is a more spirited and improved Lions team than we saw in the first round of the competition.”

The Sharks campaign seems to have hit a plateau in recent weeks and may have been as a result of losing several key players to the Springboks, but Muir refused to harp on that.

“There was a little bit of inexperience in our side. But to win trophies, you need accurate decision-making. Ruan and Butch are special players in their own right. But we are proud to lose guys like that to the Springboks. Fortunately, we have a good squad system to make up for their absence. We just lacked some experience today.”

The Lions, of course, were without inspirational kingpin Andre Pretorius, but Jaco van Schalkwyk filled his boots admirably on the day.

“I wasn’t happy with the decision-making. We should have put the ball behind them more and there were times that we should have gone left, but we went right.”

The Lions have a bye this weekend, while the Sharks face top of the table Western Province at the Absa Stadium in Durban on Friday.

By Andrew Hollely