Henno Mentz’s hat-trick handed the Lions a 31-20 bonus-point win over the Reds in Brisbane.
Two of Mentz’s tries came directly from punishing defence, and this should be a simple lesson for the Lions. The visitors looked better without the ball as they countered with verve and trusted their defence on most occasions, while the Reds were forced into numerous errors.
However, the Lions mustn’t get carried away by this win. The Reds were woeful. It was 12 vs 13 on the log before kick-off and both sides showed exactly why.
The standard of this basketball game was typified by a period of play on the 15-minute mark where both sides conceded the ball twice, before the Lions eventually blew a chance to score when Jannie Boshoff made contact before passing.
The Reds were always going to try loosen the game up but why the Lions fell into the same trap in the opening half is a mystery as better sides would have punished their mistakes.
The loss of Jaque Fourie and Louis Ludik robbed them of their thrust in the backs, while their replacements provided inconsistent performances. The Lions’ backs were often guilty of lateral running, with no one to straighten and provide impetus as Fourie would have done.
Earl Rose was selected at fullback in Ludik’s absence and he looked extremely shaky under the high ball, not because of a lack of talent or technique, but simply because he was petrified of the oncoming tacklers.
However, Rose made up for it when he initiated the first try from a turnover that came from Todd Clever’s tackle. Rose countered from the 22 and threw a long pass to Mentz who weaved his way past Peter Hynes to score under the posts.
The Lions’ defence handed up numerous linebreaks in the opening half hour and eventually scrumhalf Will Genia made them pay. Genia broke round the side of the ruck and eased pass a disinterested Rose.
Whenever the Lions were in a comfortable lead they handed the initiative straight back to the hosts.Captain Ernst Joubert charged down Genia’s box kick (17-5), but straight away sub Scott Higginbotham crashed over to reduce the deficit.
The Lions were comfortable heading into the shed 17-10 up, but Heinke van der Merwe went off with what looked a serious leg injury.The scrum managed to stay steady for a brilliant first-phase try (Mentz’s second) as Deon van Rensburg delivered a brilliant offload behind the defender’s back.
Then the Lions began to implode as brain explosions were the order of the day as a repeat of the Chiefs debacle seemed likely. Firstly, reserve flank Robert Kruger was sin binned for an outrageously late tackle, then two minutes later Anton van Zyl got the same punishment for his cynical infringement.
Quade Cooper cruised over while they only had the one man advantage but the Lions were under real pressure. However, while they were down to 13 Mentz claimed his hat-trick from another Reds mistake as he cruised over from 70m. Yet again it came from solid defence that forced the mistake - this time from Lawrence Sephaka.
The Lions now face the Force in their final match overseas. With seven tour points already, a win will deem the tour a success. However, a defeat and it will be another mediocre Australasian sojourn.
By Grant Ball