Impressive Lions win try-fest at Ellis Park
When you stand accused of playing ‘too much rugby’ it isn’t the sheer number of minutes on the playing surface for which you are potentially held to account.
The Lions’ insistence on keeping ball in hand in their own territory and eschewing a territory based game has proved costly this season.
In the past they may have had the players who could exert that kind of unerring and relentless control over the ball and the opposition, but they no longer.
Their foibles with ball in hand in the face of well organised defences have led to much frustration, but they will argue it is in their DNA to run teams off their feet.
In the Highlanders, they predictably found restless and relentless foes.
It was no surprise amid a muted roar from the sparsely populated Main Stand that Elton Jantjies was instructed to kick for goal instead of touch in the 63rd minute.
By then the Lions were at their wits’ end but their old habits are hard to shake. With the game in the balance they swung the ball wide in the last move of the game and their wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and Courtnall Skosan marvellously conspired for the winning touchdown.
Thankfully for the hosts it was again the blunt force they applied in the scrum that helped them subdue their opponents.
Earlier in the game they shifted the point of contact in an attempt to tire the visiting pack and found reward when Andries Coetzee scored after a multi phased move in the 15th minute.
Coetzee looked sprightly on Saturday, and this try came as a direct result of his superb support play.
It was an impressive score as the Lions looked composed and assured in possession. Earlier however it did not look the case.
Their failure to hold onto the ball almost cost them the match against the Waratahs a week ago and coach Swys de Bruin wasted no time in lamenting the fact afterwards.
Early on it did not appear as if his team had done their revision. The Lions conceded possession in midfield and the visitors swiftly hit left before a chip left Skosan isolated.
A quick tap caught the Lions’ napping and the ball travelled the width of the field allowing Sio Tomkinson to dot down unchallenged.
Gradually the Lions’ forwards applied the squeeze. As you’d expect in a quick tempo-ed game Kwagga Smith featured prominently, while Cyle Brink made similar inroads albeit through far more direct means.
Marnus Schoeman almost always eked out another metre when he met a tackle, while Carlu Sadie, whenever he dropped a shoulder, also helped put the visitors on the back foot.
At the back Harold Vorster looked the most incisive.
LIONS (14) 38
Tries: Kwagga Smith (2), Andries Coetzee, Shaun Reynolds, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (5). Penalty: Jantjies.
HIGHLANDERS (12) 29
Tries: Sio Tomkinson, Tom Franklin, Jordan Hyland, Matt Faddes, Josh Ioane. Conversions: Josh Ioane, Daniel Hollinshead.