Persistent pressure by the Xerox Lions eventually paid off as they beat the Boland Kavaliers 31-10 in their Absa Currie Cup match in Wellington on Saturday, gaining a potentially crucial bonus point after the final hooter.
SuperRugby reports that the five points moved the Lions up to second on the log, one point ahead of the Blue Bulls, and Eugene Eloff and his men were anxiously awaiting news from Bloemfontein where the Bulls played the Free State Cheetahs later on Saturday.
The Lions, enjoying tremendous service from a completely dominant pack, thoroughly dominated territory and possession and flyhalf Earl Rose impressed as he directed affairs skilfully with slick hands and good kicking.
The Kavaliers, however, made a nuisance of themselves like yappy dogs as they defended for all they were worth and the Lions were forced into a nervous final quarter as they were seeking their fourth try.
But the Gauteng backline is showing such excellent hands and skill in offloading in the tackle that they were a consistent threat throughout and will be for the closing stages of the Currie Cup.
The Lions had their first try in just the second minute as wing Trompie Nontshinga left the Boland defence grasping at thin air as he came in behind a decoy runner and sliced through to the goal-line.
But the visitors only managed to eke out one more try before half time, with the field a quagmire that closely resembled a waterhole after a herd of elephant had spent the morning in it.
The Kavaliers closed the gap to 7-5 midway through the first half as scrumhalf Marnus Hugo reacted quickly to the shrill blast of referee Phillip Bosch’s whistle and took a tap penalty, allowing eighthman David Hendricks, who produced a top-class effort in a losing cause, to charge over the line.
But the Kavaliers conceded points at the other end almost immediately as the Lions’ second try came just two minutes later, Nontshinga ensuring that he straightened the line before passing to fullback Louis Ludik, who passed to wing Michael Killian for the try.
Rose kicked the conversion and a penalty and, 17-5 up at the break, the Lions looked on course in their efforts to secure a home semi-final.
The Kavaliers were the first to score after the break though, as a lapse in concentration by Nontshinga gifted them a 43rd-minute try.
Lions flank Cobus Grobbelaar dropped the ball with the tryline open and Boland wing Deon Scholtz kicked and chased practically the length of the field with only Nontshinga keeping up with him.
But in diving over the line in an effort to ground the ball, Scholtz failed to make contact with the ball.
Nontshinga, instead of dotting the ball down, gave it a feeble prod with his boot and Boland flyhalf Elgar Watts, following up to congratulate Scholtz, somewhat fortuitously applied enough pressure to the ball for a try to count as he touched it.
The Lions recovered from this shock though and, six minutes later, their slick hands and ability to keep the ball alive in contact laid bare the Boland defence, with outside centre Jaco Pretorius finishing well in the left corner.
But Boland defended enthusiastically for the rest of the match and the Lions were starting to get frustrated as the clock ticked into the final quarter and then into just the teens remaining.
The final hooter went and it was now or never for the Lions, who responded by stealing a Boland lineout and spreading the ball wide left. Flank Derick Minnie, who had played with impressive urgency throughout, grabbed the ball at the base of a ruck and was able to force his way over for a crucial try that will be greeted with dismay in Pretoria.
There is no doubt the Lions, beaten finalists last year, are well poised to make another strong challenge on the title this year.
Boland Kavaliers – Tries: David Hendricks, Elgar Watts.
Xerox Lions – Tries: Trompie Nontshinga, Michael Killian, Jaco Pretorius, Derick Minnie. Conversions: Earl Rose (4). Penalty: Rose.Tweet