Jaco Pretorius scored a hat-trick and Andre Pretorius 22 points in the Lions 42-36 win over Vodacom Western Province at Ellis Park.
The match was the antithesis of the physical battle in Bloemfontein between Free State and the Sharks, with broken play and continuity being the order of the day. The victory with a bonus point sees the Lions keeping their semi-finals hopes alive, while the two-points garnered by Province moves them up to third place on the log.
The home side began impressively, with Andre Pretorius producing a clever grubber between the WP defenders that allowed centre Jaco Pretorius to run on and record his first five-pointer of the game.
But as the half progressed, so did WP’s levels of concentration. While they began with a series of knock ons and loose passes, they eventually started to regain their rhythm. Winger Sireli Naqelevuki rounded off two enterprising moves with some strong running on the outside, and then added another to his tally in the second half to complete the hat-trick.
WP captain Luke Watson was prominent at the breakdown, securing vital turnovers in his own 22 on several occasions. Generally speaking, the Lions loose trio were outplayed, with Pieter Louw also proving a dominant force around the fringes.
But for all their innovative play, WP were let down by some diabolical defence, and were lucky that the Lions squandered a few other scoring opportunites. Province will also be concerned with the form of their kicker, Naas Olivier, who missed five of his nine attempts at goal. Admittedly they were from difficult positions, but in the tight playoff games, these kicks can be the difference between champions and also rans.
The Andre Pretorius factor was all it was hyped up to be, and besides his well-struck drop goal to give the Lions the narrow 21-18 lead at half-time, he was a dynamo in the midfield, sparking numerous attacks that made the WP defence look very ordinary.
Jaco Pretorius was duly awarded Man-of-the-Match, his superior speed and drifting off the ball leaving his opposite number Sarel Potgieter clutching at air when he went over for his third try.
The tight phases did not have much bearing on the outcome, but it must be said that the Lions dominated the scrums, with WP’s 107kg Schalk Ferreira grossly outweighed by the 130kg Bertus Smit. Understandably, Ferreira was pulled 20 minutes into the game with the more formidable frame of JD Moller coming on at loosehead.
The Lions’ best chance of qualifying now lie in the hands of the Vodacom Cheetahs. While they will need to get five points from their match against the Pumas next week, the Vodacom Blue Bulls also have to lose to the Cheetahs without a bonus point to be knocked out of contention.
This is assuming that WP and the Sharks win their final games against Griquas and the Valke respectively, but as these are home games for the big union sides, an upset is unlikely.
Lions: Tries: Jaco Pretorius (3), Earl Rose; Conversions: Andre Pretorius (2); Penalties: Andre Pretorius (5); Drop goal: Andre Pretorius.
WP: Tries: Sireli Naqelevuki (3), Luke Watson, Corne Uys; Conversion: Naas Olivier; Penalties: Olivier (3).
By Jon Cardinelli