The Lions squeezed in a nailbiting 33-30 win over the Pumas at the Puma Stadium in Witbank on Friday, having led 13-0 after 12 minutes but trailing 18-27 with 13 minutes to play.
Rugby 365 reports that the Lions had to survive a furious onslaught from the Pumas into the 85th minute as the home team held onto the ball for 16 phases inside the Lions 22 and then through 17 phases close to their goalline.
The game ended with the Pumas bashing their way over the goalline – having elected not to kick at posts for a draw from a close-range penalty – but TMO Gerrie Coetzer adjudged that there was no clear evidence of a try having been scored.
It was very cold in Witbank and few people turned out to support their Pumas team – a pity because the effort and enthusiasm of their players was wonderful. They have less depth than the big guns in the Currie Cup and have struggled with injuries but the spirit with which they played was admirable.
The Lions did manage to show bits and pieces of evidence of John Mitchell’s purposeful coaching and it is clear that he has endeavoured to instill a calculated gameplan – but for much of the game their execution was poor. At times it was dismal.
To compete with the top teams in the Currie Cup they are going to have to improve markedly on their concentration and be appreciably more accurate in their execution.
The most impressive aspect of their performance was their defence at the death, when they showed an organisation and resolve so sadly lacking in their Super 14 campaign.
The Lions enjoyed 80 percent of possession in the first quarter and had a big territorial advantage. They took an early 13-0 lead but then lost focus and momentum, made unforced errors and allowed the determined Pumas to claw their way back into the game.
In the second quarter the Lions struggled to retain possession in contact and conceded penalties. The Pumas enjoyed far more ball and better territory, seizing the momentum.
The second half started slowly for the visitors and well for the home team but the Lions were at their best in a decisive period between the 67th and 75th minutes when they scored 15 points.
The Lions took a 3-0 lead in the fourth minute when the Pumas were penalised for straying offside and Burton Francis goaled the penalty. He stretched the lead to 6-0 in the 10th minute when the Pumas conceded a third consecutive penalty, this time for illegal scrummaging.
Two minutes later the Pumas gave away a penalty in front of their posts, Deon van Rensburg tapped, ran and scored under the posts. Francis converted and the Lions were ahead 13-0.
Christo le Roux reduced the deficit in the 20th minute when from a penalty and driving maul from a five-metre line-out, TMO ruled that he had scored a try. Elgar Watts converted and the Pumas were back in the game at 13-7.
In the 29th minute the Pumas were rewarded for strong pressure inside the Lions 22 when the visitors were penalised at breakdown and Watts goaled from in front of the posts (13-10).
Three minutes into the second half Watts beat the Lions defence to score the Pumas second try. He could not convert from close to touch but the home team had come back from 0-13 down to lead 15-13.
Four minutes later a dangerous tackle by Lions captain Franco van der Merwe on Shaun Venter close to the Lions goalline, with no other defender close enough to stop Venter, resulted in a penalty try and a yellow card for Van der Merwe. Watts converted and the Pumas led 22-13.
But from the restart an alert Jano Vermaak charged down an attempted relief kick by Watts and collected and scored himself. Francis could not convert (22-18).
The home team carried the ball through a series of phases and in the 58th minute, from a neat grubber by Allistair Kettledas, Nicky Kritzinger gathered skilfully and scored in the corner to increase the lead to 27-18. Watts’s conversion attempt flew wide.
A late shoulder charge by Kritzinger on Van Rensburg earned him a sin-binning and almost immediately the Lions took advantage of the extra man by driving over the goalline from a line-out, allowing Derick Minnie to score a try which Francis converted. With 15 minutes to play the Pumas led 27-25.
In the 68th minute the Lions infringed at a ruck and Ricardo Croy, on at flyhalf for Watts, goaled to take the lead to 30-25.
Two minutes later the Lions drew level when they capitalised on a break by Waylon Murray, managed to retain possession through phases, and worked the overlap for Jaco Taute to score in the corner. Francis could not convert (30-30).
Francis put the Lions back ahead when the Pumas were penalised for collapsing the scrum – and warned for foul language – and he goaled from in front of the posts. With five minutes to play the visitors led 33-30.
Trying to salvage victory, the Pumas threw everything into all-out attack and took the ball through 16 phases but a forward pass cost them a possible winning try.
From a penalty they then took the ball through 17 phases. They had the opportunity to secure a draw with a penalty close to the posts long after the hooter but chose to run the ball and were held up over the goal-line.
In the end the Lions gained a bonus point for their four tries and the Pumas two log points – for losing by fewer than seven points and for scoring four tries.
This game will not be remembered for a particularly high standard of rugby but it was certainly tense and exciting right through to the final whistle.
Man of the Match: In the first half livewire Lions hooker Edgar Marutlulle and Pumas lock Marius Coetzer impressed, while Pumas loose forwards Christo le Roux and Torsten van Jaarsveld and Lions flank Derick Minnie stood out for their workrate. Flyhalf Elgar Watts was good value for the Pumas but missed two crucial penalties which would have put his team further ahead. Our Man of the Match is skilful, all-action Lions scrum half Jano Vermaak – the Lions would struggle without him.
For the Lions:
Tries: Van Rensburg, Vermaak, Minnie, Taute
Cons: Francis 2
Pens: Francis 3
For the Pumas:
Tries: penalty try, Le Roux, Watts, Kritzinger
Cons: Watts 2
Pens: Watts, Croy
Yellow cards: Franco van der Merwe (Lions, 49th minute – dangerous tackle), Nicky Kritzinger (Pumas, 62nd minute – dangerous tackle)Tweet