Lions break Sharks hearts

Franco van der Merwe scored a last minute try as the Lions beat the Sharks 22-20 at Ellis Park, writes GRANT BALL.

While the grounding of the ball in Van der Merwe’s score was dubious, you couldn’t say the Lions didn’t deserve to win. Sharks fans who complain about the try will also be well served to remember Lwazi Mvovo’s second score, which shouldn’t have been allowed.

Earlier the Lions suffered the worst possible start when Mvovo cantered over in the second minute, while in the same movement the hosts’ hooker Martin Bezuidenhout threw a punch and was yellow carded. Leading 5-0, playing against 14 men and exuding ultimate confidence in the try-scoring movement where they ran from their own 22, the odds were in the Sharks’ favour.

However, the Lions outscored the visitors 3-0 in that 10-minute period via an Elton Jantjies penalty. It’s been repeated throughout the season how different this Lions outfit is compared to the Super 14, but it can’t be emphasised enough. With the numerical advantage, on one occasion the Sharks pounded away for 19 phases at the Lions line and also exhibited brilliant offloading, but the Lions wouldn’t relent.

That theme continued for the rest of the half as the Sharks had all the possession, but the Lions’ cover defence and turning over ball at the breakdown was outstanding. After another multi-phase Sharks attack, a dropped pass fell into the hands of a Lions player 5m from their own line. The hosts countered rapidly, another feature of their play this season, and with Jannie Boshoff feeding Jaco Taute, the fullback finished off under the poles.

The Sharks replied through Mvovo’s brace, and even though the visitors had dominated possession, they were lucky to head into the shed level at 10-all. Mvovo again showed impressive pace and strength, but he had clearly placed a foot out in the build-up, but the assistant referee inexplicably missed the act.

Jantjies, who had been in exemplary goal-kicking form before last week’s match against the Bulls, also missed three penalties at goal, while Lambie hit the upright with an easy conversion for the first try.

In the first fixture between the sides at Kings Park the Sharks’ similar first half onslaught also didn’t yield results on the scoreboard, but eventually the defending took its toll on the Lions as they conceded 50 points. However, that didn’t look like repeating itself when they took a five-point lead when Waylon Murray scored against his former side after running an incisive angle to break the line.

But the impact of having to make 100 tackles in just 55 minutes eventually told when Odwa Ndungane benefited from quick ruck ball to score his side’s third try. Lambie nudged over his first kick of the match and then a penalty to hand the Sharks a five-point lead.

While the hosts had to defend in the opening half, the Sharks were forced into many tackles in the final quarter, while Ryan Kankowski’s ill-discipline for stomping on a player saw him miss the final four minutes.

Poetically the Lions’ inspirational captain scored in the final movement and while all his team-mates have showed improved resolve from earlier in the year, special mention must also be made of Josh Strauss, Jano Vermaak and Doppies la Grange.

The Lions face the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein and Pumas at home with their semi hopes still alive, while the Sharks versus Western Province match could prove vital in who tops the log.

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