The Lions finished their final Super 14 warm-up match against the Pumas in a wet Witbank with a lacklustre performance in the night’s final game, narrowly winning 24-17. In the early game the Lions Black team won 38-30 against the Leopards.
Although Lions director of coaching Dick Muir emphasised that Friday night’s teams were not strictly selected on merit, there is little doubt that the late-match Red team was the better of the two and getting close to what he has in mind for the Super 14 campaign.
Muir will however not be too perturbed by the close scoreline and on Thursday actually predicted that the clinical finishing would not necessarily be there yet. Some areas of the team’s performance will however give him much to ponder before the Lions play their first Super 14 match against the Stormers on Friday night.
The outstanding ray of light in a rather dull performance was former All Black flyhalf Carlos Spencer. He showed in no uncertain manner that the move to lure him to Gauteng was a good one.
Spencer kept the Pumas on the back foot with cross kicks and was sharp in his distribution. His quick thinking launched an attack for the Lions’ wing youngster, Wandile Mjekevu, who crossed the try line in the twelfth minute.
Despite King Carlos’ inspiring performance, the rest of the Lions couldn’t finish on countless occasions in the main match, although inside centre, Doppies le Grange also had a solid game and is one of the few who can be satisfied about his game.
The Pumas, newly promoted to the Currie Cup Premier Division for this year’s competition, will on the other hand feel proud of what they achieved against a Super 14 franchise. The game could have swung either way, and the Pumas were close to causing an upset.
The Pumas lock, Marius Coetzer, was very good in the line-outs and made life difficult for his provincial captain of last year, Hannes Franklin, with his excellent jumping. Franklin struggled to find his Lions team mates.
The Lions led 12-10 at the break – and when Muir then brought on a few substitutes, they at least provided some spark. Earl Rose had a solid display with Thonderai Chavanga, back from a long-term injury, also looking good on attack.
While Rose was solid under the high ball, a blunder on his try line gifted an easy try to Pumas flyhalf Elgar Watts.
With about ten minutes to go the two teams were tied on 17-all, but the Lions pulled it out of the fire with the substitute hooker, Charles Enslie, scoring a pushover try to ensure a 24-17 victory.
The Lions will have to sort out their line-outs in particular and also improve on their handling before Friday – but then it is also true that Muir and his assistants have not really worked in team context as they searched for the best with new coaching personnel and players alike.
Points: Lions (Red team): Tries: Wandile Mjekevu, Jonathan Mokuena, Deon van Rensburg, Charles Enslie. Conversions: Chris Jonck, Burton Francis
Pumas: Tries: Ronnie Uys, Elgar Watts. Conversions: Braam Pretorius (2). Penalty: Pretorius
** In the early game rain prevented the Lions and the Leopards from playing an expansive game. Leopards nevertheless gave the Lions a good physical contest, and lost only 38-30.
Although the conditions made it difficult for the Lions players to stake a claim for a first team place, a few players did deliver.
Flanker Johan van Deventer was awarded with two tries for an industrious performance, and scrumhalf Alex Kock also scored two first half tries.
One player who caught the eye when he came on as a substitute was centre Justin St Jerry, who hurt the Leopards with a few big hits.
The Leopards gave a good account of themselves and eighth man Riaan Swanepoel shone for the men from the North West.
Points: Lions: Tries: Henno Mentz, Alex Kock (2), Johan van Deventer (2), Earl Lewis. Conversions: Herkie Kruger (2), Ruan Boshoff (2)
Leopards: Tries: Japie Nel, Deon Scholtz, Jan van Zyl. Conversions: Clayton Durand (2), Van Zyl . Penalties: Durand (3).