Lions achieve their objective
Gavin Rich
July 15, 2017

A workmanlike 27-10 win over the Cell C Sharks in their final match of the regular season enabled the Emirates Lions to clinch their objective of finishing on top of the combined Vodacom Super Rugby log at Kings Park on Saturday.

In so doing, the Lions set up a return between the two teams in next week’s quarterfinal, which is a much better result for the Sharks than a trip to Christchurch to play the Crusaders. So it would probably be fair to say that both teams should have been satisfied with the result of a game that never really reached any great heights in terms of quality.

The match completed the league phase and the quarterfinal line-up for next week is now finalised: The Hurricanes will be travelling to Canberra on Friday to play the Brumbies, the Crusaders will host the Highlanders in a south island derby on Saturday morning, the Stormers will host the Chiefs and the Lions the Sharks in what should be a thrilling Saturday afternoon double header in South Africa.

It was a bit of a weird atmosphere from the start at Kings Park, possibly because the Hurricanes' win over the Crusaders in Christchurch earlier in the day had set the Sharks up with a catch-22 situation in that a win would have been like drawing the short straw. The Sharks were competitive for long periods, and the Lions fans were only really able to start breathing easily once skipper Jaco Kriel had gone over for a try in the right corner after 63 minutes.

That made it 24-10 to the Lions and the Sharks just hadn’t done enough attacking in the game for it to be realistic for them to make up that deficit. The Sharks will have ended the game feeling that they had a good work-out defensively but that the match showed them how much ground they have to make up in other areas if they are going to be competitive when it matters seven days from now.

As always appears to be the case in Durban, the ground and ball were slippery and both teams made far too many handling errors. However, there was no denying that the Lions were emphatically the better team throughout, with the 13-10 lead enjoyed by the Lions at halftime flattering the Sharks.

It had in fact been the Sharks leading 10-8 on the hooter after a 37th minute try from Kobus van Wyk that had come against the run of play and should have given the hosts some hope as all the statistics were against them up to that point. But the Lions responded well and instead of just kicking into touch to end play after the hooter, as tends to be the South African way, they put in an all-out assault that ultimately led to a try in the corner for fullback Andries Coetzee.

It was Lionel Mapoe who figured most prominently in the build-up, with his run disorganising the Sharks’ defensive system, while earlier in the game it had been hooker Malcolm Marx who had dotted down off a driving maul that gave the Lions the lead for the first time in the 18th minute. That was after Garth April, the Sharks flyhalf, had put the first points on the board with a penalty.

The Lions dominated possession and territory throughout the first half and the Sharks just never got their hands on the ball often enough and were unable to get out of their half of the field. It was a vice-like clamp that the Lions had on the game, but they wouldn’t have been happy with their handling mistakes.

The Sharks’ defence was good, particularly their scramble defence, but they are going to have to do more than that if they hope to be competitive at Emirates Airline Park next Saturday. One glimmer of hope for the Sharks is the fact that they tend to be hot one week and cold the next, and they should feel they were cold in this game. So who knows what might happen next week.

While Sharks flyhalf April struggled and made mistakes and was unable to really help the Sharks to exit effectively – Curwin Bosch must surely start in Johannesburg next week – the Lions pivot Elton Jantjies showed with his tactical game why he is the Springbok flyhalf.

He did not succeed with any conversion attempts in the match but he kicked two second-half penalties to put the Lions out of range before a great surge from scrumhalf Ross Cronje laid the platform for the try that Kriel scored in the corner. Coetzee drew the last defenders before passing to his captain, who had an open line in front of him.


Emirates Lions 27 – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Andries Coetzee and Jaco Kriel; Penalties: Elton Jantjies 4.

Cell C Sharks 10 – Try: Kobus van Wyk; Conversion: Garth April; Penalty: Garth April.

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