Lions pip Pumas in Currie Cup opener
If the Golden Lions hoped to invoke the spirit of their former star wing James Small in their Currie Cup opener against the Pumas at Ellis Park on Saturday, they left it late.
Both teams enjoyed periods of relative dominance but it served to contribute to a spectacle in which the initiative was relinquished just when it seemed one team was getting the better of the other.
The Lions showed great fighting spirit as they clawed their way back from a 21-37 deficit in the 60th minute, to nudge into the lead with just two minutes to go when flyhalf Shaun Reynolds wriggled his way over after sustained pressure.
Strapping right wing Madosh Tambe was one of the hosts’ stars scoring four tries, while fullback Tyrone Green and centre Wandisele Simelane also delivered some golden touches.
Before the start there was a minute’s silence for Small who died of a heart attack this week and it was perhaps fitting that his former team this week played against the team they opposed on his debut all those years ago.
Of course, Southeastern Transvaal now operate as the Pumas but they remain a team as hard to put down now as they were back then.
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The Pumas are a cohesive unit having surged to the final of the SuperSport Challenge unbeaten before losing to Griquas.
This is a well drilled and spirited Pumas side and their familiarity with those in the same jersey, as well as their strengths, make them a team to be reckoned with.
It were the visitors that looked the more cohesive unit in the opening hour as they established territorial dominance, especially in the first half.
Their pack contested with familiar fervour and they were further kept on the front foot by flyhalf Kobus Marais’ unerring boot.
The Lions only sporadically sprung to life, no more glaringly illustrated than when Tambwe scored his first try in the 10th minute and fullback Green’s electrifying effort just after the restart.
Green, a player whose pluck and speed reminds of a little of the young Small, has a bright future.
Those illuminating moments however were few a far between for the Lions and once Green dotted down soon after the restart the Pumas asserted themselves in 16-minute period in which they scored 23 unanswered points.
To be fair to the Lions they were severely disrupted by the injuries sustained in their backrow to Vincent Tshituka and Marnus Schoeman, while lock Reinhard Nothnagel also left the field injured in the second half.
Their cause also suffered when lock Rhyno Herbst was yellow carded in the first half and skirted with the prospect of a red in the second.
They however marvellously rallied in the last quarter of an hour. The Lions dodged a bullet here, but their fighting spirit would have made their fallen hero proud.
Golden Lions (38) - Tries: Madosh Tambwe (4), Tyrone Green, Shaun Reynolds. Conversions: Reynolds (4).
Pumas (37) - Tries: Carel du Preez, Le Roux Roets, Etienne Taljaard, Morgan Naude. Conversions: Kobus Marais (4). Penalties: Marais (3).