GARETH DUNCAN reports on the Lions’ 29-20 bonus-point win over the Brumbies in Canberra.
The Lions’ horrid Super Rugby run was expected to continue in Canberra. After all, it was a city where South African teams rarely enjoyed success as the Bulls were the last side to win (19-7) there in 2007. Before that, you’d have to look back to the Sharks’ 41-23 triumph in 1998. The Lions failed to win in Canberra in 16 years.
But the odds weren’t stacked that heavily against the Johannesburg-based franchise as they faced a Brumbies team that were also struggling with form. The home team’s poor record read eight defeats from their 10 fixtures this season. If there was ever a chance that the Lions would pick up an overseas win in 2011, this was it.
And John Mitchell’s mongrels didn’t disappoint as they pummelled the Brumbies on their way to their first bonus-point win in two seasons.
The Lions forwards were instrumental in the victory. Josh Strauss was outstanding as stand-in captain up front and his heavies followed through. The pack kept things simple as momentum was created through strong driving mauls and ball carries. Whenever they were in range of the red zone, the Lions would drive the ball up from first receiver regularly. This was used to good effect as it constructed the Lions’ first two tries, which overturned an early deficit.
The Brumbies surged into a 10-point advantage after the visitors’ defensive lapse. Stephen Moore broke four tackles on his way to the try line while Pat Cilliers was yellow carded for a late and dangerous challenge on Josh Valentine and Matt Giteau, who was celebrating his 100th Super Rugby appearance, converted the extra points.
Despite being down a man, the Lions battled hard and won the ascendancy. They turned down five kickable penalties in the first half and opted for touch. Despite failing to convert the first two chances, they persevered and profited from two opportunities as Michael Rhodes crashed over from close range and Deon van Rensburg cruised into the corner after the Brumbies defence was sucked in. The Lions grabbed a 12-10 lead at the break.
Elton Jantjies didn’t have a great start to his debut Super Rugby season and his poor form saw him benched for the last couple games. But the 20-year-old was impressive after given a second chance in the No 10 jersey. With a dominant pack up front, he had the platform to excel.
His smart all-round play crafted Alwyn Hollenbach and Jaco Taute’s scores in the second half. A Sonny Bill Williams-like offload put Hollenbach through under the posts. After a line break, Jantjies produced a no-look pass to give Taute a clear run to the whitewash for the Lions’ four-try bonus point.
The Brumbies had their opportunities to hit back but they lacked composure in an errant performance. A Giteau penalty and an Andrew Smith try was the only reward they got in the second stanza as they came up against a resilient Lions defence.
After mixed performances this season, Mitchell has finally seen his team play to their full potential. They deserve to celebrate now, but the Kiwi coach will need to ensure his players build on this performance as they face the Waratahs, Highlanders and Hurricanes on the road in the next three weeks – a tough trip still lies ahead.