Lions saved by another red card
Gavin Rich
May 26, 2018

Replacement wing Madosh Tambwe scored the winning try three minutes from time to clinch the Lions an exciting 26-23 win over the Stormers on Saturday night, but many would have left Newlands thinking that referee Nick Briant was the real hero of the visiting effort.

Those who say that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice might start rethinking that theory, as this was the second week in succession where the Lions were helped out of a hole in freaky fashion by an opposition red card.

At least last week though there was no doubt about the decision when Brumbies lock Rory Arnold was banished from the field for dangerous play and the Lions might conceivably have been en route to victory, even though the scores were close at the time.

This week was different. The Stormers were ahead 17-7 and appeared to be controlling the game when Raymond Rhule was red carded after colliding with Lions wing Ruan Combrinck with just over 25 minutes remaining.

Briant consulted with the TMO and perhaps, at a time when the officials are so sensitive to anything that transpires when a player collides with another player who is in the air, he felt that the law was on his side.

If that is the case then it highlights one of the many reasons why rugby is subjected to declining interest worldwide, namely the over-sanitisation of what is supposed to be a contact sport, and that goes hand in hand with an over-convoluted law book.

This was another of those matches where those at the game could have bitten into large chunks of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the time it took for TMOs and referees to play videos over and over again on the big screen. And it won’t have helped the patience of the partisan crowd that there was plenty of grey area in the incident that reduced the Stormers to 14 men for the last quarter and a bit of the game.

In fact, they were actually down to 13 men for 10 minutes of that final period as replacement loose-forward Jaco Coetzee was yellow carded during the period when the Lions, suddenly energised by having an advantage in numbers, swarmed all over the Stormers.

The first of replacement front-row forward Corne Fourie’s brace of tries came when the Stormers were looking shell-shocked after losing Rhule, and the second came just after Coetzee had been banished because of repeated Stormers indiscretions as they scrambled desperately on defence.

What had been a 10-point lead was suddenly a two point deficit, and while the Stormers did well when they did compose themselves for a while and Jean-Luc du Plessis kicked two pressure penalties to restore the Stormers lead at 23-19, it was always going to be hard for them to keep a good team like the Lions, particularly one so adept at playing width, from scoring again.

The Stormers have only themselves to blame for losing the field position they enjoyed with five minutes to go. At a time when they desperately needed to hold onto the ball, the Stormers gave it away too often with handling errors, and it was from one of those that the Lions launched the counter-attack which enabled them to force the penalty that they kicked into the corner to set up an attacking lineout.

The Lions are a great mauling team and have scored many tries this season through the driving maul, but this wasn’t one of those. Instead the ball was reversed towards the touchline for Tambwe to cross the line through precisely the area that Rhule would have been standing had he been there.

So back to Rhule and that refereeing decision. What was questionable about it was that Rhule was airborne in what looked like an attempt to parry a Combrinck chip kick, and the Lions winger ran into him.

It looked bad as Combrinck lay prone on the floor, but was Rhule really guilty of an offence that should have seen him sent off? This was not a case of a player being tackled while in the air but of a player running into another player who was airborne.

Earlier the Stormers also lost JJ Engelbrecht for 10 minutes when he failed to land a Lions player safely in a tackle. That was a more justified decision, though even there you could argue the law needs to be looked at, as it didn’t appear that it was the Engelbrecht tackle that lifted him from the ground.

The Stormers’ plan looked like it was working until the cards started appearing. Not for the first time in a Newlands game this winter, they had a telling advantage in the scrums and with their defence injecting good linespeed and tackling the Lions players repeatedly behind the advantage line, it was the conference leaders who played most of the first half under pressure.

A good early try to Dewaldt Duvenage that came about because of a great little chip kick from Du Plessis gave the Stormers energy in the fourth minute, and then there was a later try scored by Rhule that was set up by a similar kick from Craig Barry, who started because of a late injury to SP Marais.

Du Plessis also kicked a penalty, but in between that the otherwise good Stormers defence was guilty of a horrible lapse when former Stormers player Nic Groom was let in through lax defending around the fringes.

Du Plessis hit the post with a penalty on the stroke of halftime which could have given them a 13-point lead instead of a 10-point one (17-7) at the break. It was that sort of game, one of small margins. Full marks to the Lions for the way they came back in what for them was a crucial game, but the Stormers would have sympathy from many if they felt they were robbed.


Emirates Lions 26 – Tries: Nic Groom, Corne Fourie 2 and Madosh Tambwe; Conversions: Elton Jantjies 3. DHL Stormers 23 – Tries: Dewaldt Duvenage and Raymond Rhule; Conversions: Jean-luc du Plessis 2; Penalties: Jean-luc du Plessis 3.

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