Pumas push lethargic Lions close

RYAN VREDE reports on a 31-27 victory for the Lions over the Pumas, despite an uninspiring performance.

The Lions will offer the excuse that they are still shaking the rust off after a period of inactivity. Rubbish. There were 12 players in their run-on side with Super Rugby experience facing a team comprised largely of semi-professionals. Yet the Johannesburg union were second best for large periods of the match – questionable decision-making, ill-discipline and poor defence undermining their cause.

Credit to the Pumas, who stuck resolutely to their plan of stretching the Lions. It was an approach that’s success depended largely on how they fared in the physical stakes, and they never disappointed in this regard.

The visitors lead 17-16 at the break and 24-16 three minutes after the restart, having enjoyed more possession and for a time they looked like taking the points back to Witbank.

The Lions were guilty of tactical naivety, preferring to attack the wide channels without having established the platform to do so effectively. Why they didn’t seek to wear the Pumas down through phases more often, they alone will know. Their misplaced ambition was met with determined, if not always accurate, defence, and they consequently rarely built any telling pressure on the Pumas.

When they did it was no surprise that it stemmed from patient build-up play, treasuring possession and profiting as a result. Their opening try was fashioned in this manner, Jacobie Adriaanse rounding off a purposeful move.

However, the Pumas struck back with two converted tries, and flyhalf Ricardo Croy added his third kick of the match shortly thereafter in response to Burton Francis’ four successful effort at goal.

The Pumas’ third try was fit for a schoolboy game, lock Marius Coetzer easily dispossessing a Lions carrier in contact in the host’s 22m and cruising home for a simple try. Croy converted and the Pumas enjoyed a period of dominance thereafter, bossing the collisions on attack and defence, the latter allowing them to stifle the Lions at the breakdown.

However, a try from an intercepted pass got the Lions back into the contest. Francis added the extras and regained the lead five minutes later with another accurate kick. But Croy was his equal, and he kept hope of an upset victory alive with 20 minutes to play.

With the match nearing its conclusion, the Lions finally replicated the tactical intelligence they had exhibited in crafting their first try, Alwyn Hollenbach finishing a move that had depleted the Pumas’ defensive line. It proved to be the decisive score of the match, but the Lions should not be pleased with this ordinary effort.