SIMON BORCHARDT watched the Lions withstand a second-half Sharks fightback to win 38-28 at Ellis Park.
In his pre-match TV interview Sharks coach John Plumtree admitted his team had bad memories of Ellis Park having lost last year’s Currie Cup final. No one, though, expected another Lions win in this Super Rugby match. The Sharks came into it on the back of four successive victories that had propelled them into the top six on the combined log, while the Lions had lost 11 in a row since winning their season opener on 25 February.
Perhaps the Sharks’ Springboks had one eye on next Saturday’s first Test against England or perhaps the whole team simply didn’t rate the Lions. Whatever the case, the visitors were woeful in the first half, while the Lions, in stark contrast to how they have played throughout 2012, were clinical and went through the first 40 minutes without making a single handling error.
Pat Lambie got the Sharks on the board with an early penalty, but the Lions hit back when an excellent chip kick off the inside of Elton Jantjies’ boot sat up for Grant Hattingh, who dived over next to the posts. The Lions struck again soon after when the TMO ruled that Derick Minnie had grounded the ball on the tryline and the hosts led 14-3 after eight minutes.
Jantjies and Lambie then exchanged penalties, before the Sharks’ defence was breached for the third time when Butch James put Lionel Mapoe into space. The outside centre evaded the tackle of Meyer Bosman and cut back inside past the cover defence to score.
Things went from bad to worse for the Sharks when Steven Sykes was yellow carded for dangerous play at the ruck, and Jantjies’ penalty made it 27-7 after half an hour. The Lions were then also reduced to 14 men shortly after when Mapoe was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul in the red zone, and Lwazi Mvovo scored in the left-hand corner for the Sharks.
However, the hosts’ responded with a bonus-point try from Deon van Rensburg to make it 32-11.
Whatever Plumtree said at half-time had the desired effect as the Sharks scored two tries in the first five minutes of the second half, through JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane, to slash the deficit to seven.
With five minutes to go, and the Lions leading 38-28, Louis Ludik went over in the right-hand corner. The assistant referee told the referee that he had seen the grounding, so the TMO was asked if there was any reason not to award the try. The TMO, though, went outside protocol by saying that he couldn’t see the grounding, and the result was a five-metre scrum.
The Sharks never got close to the tryline again, and the Lions, finally, had something to celebrate.