RYAN VREDE watched the Hurricanes grab an invaluable 30-28 tour victory over the Lions in an enthralling match at Ellis Park.
The Lions lost this one rather than the Canes winning it, but the visitors won’t care. Four points on the road is precious. Flyhalf Beauden Barrett’s penalty, his fifth of the night, late in the piece edged them ahead. They then held on desperately for a minute and a half and banked their first win of the tournament.
For the Lions to achieve their objective of a mid-table finish they need to win home matches against opposition of this calibre. Make no mistake, this Canes side is weak and will take a pounding from the tournament’s elite, particularly away from home. The Lions can look to conceding two tries in quick succession in the second half as the biggest contributor to the loss. They had the Canes on the ropes and another try would almost certainly have ended their challenge.
The Lions’ game plan was also questionable. Those with a preference for T20-style rugby would have been orgasmic at the fare served up, with expansive attacks the order of the day. However, there was so little appreciation for building a platform through phase play that they never asked telling defensive questions until late in the match. They Canes simply fanned out in defence and waited for the next wave of ambition to flow their way.
In light of this, individual attacking brilliance or defensive lapses (structural and individual) looked most likely to be the main route to breaching the defensive line. You sensed the Canes would be guilty of more instances of the latter as their chests filled with fire from breathing in the thin Highveld air. Indeed they were completely spent in the final quarter but managed to muster the resolve to string a series of phases together and earn the decisive penalty.
The Lions’ attacks often went sideways and took place well behind the advantage line, posing little threat to the whitewash, while the high-tempo approach resulted in a string of handling errors, one such second half error gifting the Canes a try.
The Lions’ cause was seriously undermined when scrums went uncontested following injuries to props JC Janse van Rensburg and CJ van der Linde. Their first try was birthed from a powerful scrum and, defensively, they were diluting the potency of the Canes’ first phase attacks through their ascendancy there. Indeed it was the speed the visitors were able to inject into their attack from the very first uncontested scrum that accounted for their first try, Andre Taylor finishing excellently in the corner.
Barrett missed the conversion but had kicked three penalties to give his side a 14-8 lead at the break. Barrett and Elton Jantjies traded penalties to open the second half before the Lions’ pivot broke brilliantly from deep in his terrritory in a move that culminated in a try for Franco van der Merwe.
The Canes looked deflated but they were galvanised by a double strike in four minutes that took them 27-18 ahead with a quarter to play. The Lions rallied, stretching the exhausted tourists side-to-side. Jantjies banked three points and converted Butch James’ try to take the Lions a point ahead. But the Canes responded effectively and will take considerable confidence from this victory.
The Lions can only look at themselves for butchering the win.