Jantjies saves Lions’ blushes

GARETH DUNCAN watched the Lions nearly blow a 24-0 first-half lead in their 37-32 win over the Rebels in Johannesburg.

The Lions enjoyed their best start to a Super Rugby match this season as they scored two tries within 10 minutes. They built on this early momentum, adding a third try and an Elton Jantjies penalty for a comfortable 24-0 buffer.

The Rebels struck back on the stroke of half-time, which proved to be a start of an impressive comeback. In the second half, lock Hugh Pyle grabbed a brace and flyhalf James Hilgendorf scored a charged-down try to complete an unbelievable turnaround. Fullback Julian Huxley’s third conversion and a following three-pointer secured a 32-27 lead in the final quarter.

However, the Lions’ late drive into the corner via reserve flank Jaco Kriel levelled the scores. Jantjies stepped and slotted the challenging conversion, to edge his team ahead. The flyhalf then sealed a five-point win with a penalty at the death.

The 21-year-old played a match-winning performance with the boot, converting all seven of his goal attempts for a tally of 17 points. He was also key when the Lions’ attack thrived and was solid on defence. This all-round influence was evident in the opening moments of the match as the Lions were rampant from the outset.

Outside centre Waylon Murray crossed the chalk for the first try in the second minute after great interplay among the backs. An inside pass from wing Lionel Mapoe was telling during the move. Soon thereafter, flank Derick Minnie was the beneficiary from composed and patient play, finishing off a 13-phase attack out wide.

Minnie completed a double after a strong driving maul soon after the half-hour mark. Jantjies added all the extras and a penalty as the Lions led 24-7 at the break. Hooker Ged Robinson scored the Rebels’ only points in the first stanza.

The Lions were guilty of a poor defensive effort and struggled to hold on to possession in the second half, which the visitors capitalised on. The hosts slipped tackles as the Rebels’ continuity on attack put Pyle through on two occasions soon after the restart. Hilgendorf’s effort in the 63rd minute put the Melbourne side ahead for the first time in the match.

With the Rebels holding the ascendancy and a slender lead, it looked like the Lions were set for their 13th defeat of the campaign. However, Kriel powered through to hand the home team a lifeline. Jantjies then finished the job with the boot, kicking the winning points.