The Lions let slip a golden opportunity to climb up the Super 14 log when they lost a game that was there for the taking against the Hurricanes in Johannesburg, 38-32.
A late try by the Lions saw them creep to within six points of the winners and they collected two bonus points for their efforts – but it could well have been a full house of five.
Sport 24 reports that the Lions were still ahead 25-24 with only 11 minutes remaining and were all over the visitors after fighting back from a 24-11 deficit at half-time.
The Lions started off well, but then let the Hurricanes in for 17 unanswered points in 13 minutes before they regained their composure just to let their concentration lapse towards the end to let the visitors in for two more tries.
In the end the better finishing of the visitors when it counted made the difference between two successive wins for the Lions and a trip to Australasia that they must now undertake after a loss.
Outstanding on the day was Springbok centre Jaque Fourie – and not only for his two tries. He was devastating on the run every time he received the ball and broke the Hurricanes line on several occasions.
And not far behind was Jano Vermaak, who kicked, broke, ran and passed with real class.
The Hurricanes were under the cosh for the first three minutes with the Lions driving one phase ball after the other. A missed drop kick by Andre Pretorius saw the visitors punish the Lions by kicking in deep, and then they strung a number of passes together with both locks Jason Eaton and Jeremy Thrush prominent before the ball went wide for centre Conrad Smith to score a very good try to make it 7-0 after five minutes.
Three minutes later Smith was again over and after eight minutes the Hurricanes were 14-0 ahead. It became 17-0 after 13 minutes when the Lions went off-side in front of their posts for Piri Weepu to kick his third from three attempts.
The scoreline at that stage – and at half-time, for that matter – perhaps flattered the ‘Cane’s, but the lesson was that they did everything at full pace and finished their attacks.
The try by Fourie, which he started with his third clean break, was a perfect example of the inability to round off. Three scoring chances early in the move came to nought before the Lions at last spread it out from another unnecessary breakdown to make it 17-5 after 25 minutes. The lead was further reduced when it became 17-8 after sustained Lions pressure and a penalty by Pretorius and two minutes later the Hurricanes spoiled in a ruck after another Fourie run for Pretorius to repeat his act.
That made it 17-11 after 34 minutes, and two minutes later Pretorius squandered three points from right in front and 37 metres out. Then the Hurricanes stretched the score to 24-11 just before the half-time hooter after more pace, support and good options when scrumhalf Alby Mathewson went over for a converted try from a breakdown.
It simply was Fourie’s night. He scored next, two minutes into the second half, when Pretorius straightened nicely from a flay pass following a lineout for Doppies la Grange to into and through the gap and feed his centre partner to score under the posts.
They Lions went ahead when the won a lineout on the halfway line, with the line packed with forwards where Todd Clever handled well and passed well for Louis Ludik to break two tackles before giving to Clever for a try under the posts.
The Lions were now near-rampant and attacked with confidence. But it was the Hurricanes who turned defence around into a period of sustained attack and it was a matter of time before they regained the lead with a converted Ma’a Nonu try with 11 minutes remaining.
When Willie Ripia caught a rebound charge-down 30 metres out without any defence in front of him to score another try converted by Weepu, the score mounted to 38-25.
It seemed too much for the Lions to do, but then Shandre Frolick ran well and scored under the posts and at 38-32 the Lions were within one score of winning.
But the Hurricanes still had to kick off. The ball went to Frolick and, with the hooter sounding he inexplicably kicked downfield for the Hurricanes to simply catch the ball and kick it out to end a lively although not always good match.
Tries: Jaque Fourie (2), Todd Clever, Shandre Frolick.
Conversions: Andre Pretorius (3).
Penalties. Andre Pretorius (2)
Tries: Conrad Smith (2), Alby Mathewson, Ma’a Nonu, Willie Ripia.
Conversions: Piri Weepu (5).
In next weekend’s action the Hurricanes travel to Durban to play the Sharks while the Lions head for New Zealand and a date with the Chiefs.Tweet