Man of the Match Warwick Tecklenburg scores under the poles having started the sweeping move with the turnover deep in the Lions’ half.
Turning a 14-17 deficit midway through the second half into a convincing 34-17 victory over the Melbourne Rebels was a “very satisfying” proof of the character in the Lions’ team, their coach Johan Ackermann said after their weekend Vodacom SuperRugby match at Ellis Park.
The Lions tore into the Rebels in the final quarter to score two more tries and notch a comfortable win in a match that had been closely-contested until that point. Although the Lions were frustrated not to get the bonus point for four tries, their sixth win of the campaign (their most since the Cats were dissolved at the end of 2005) means they go into the final round of fixtures in 13th position.
They take on the 14th-placed Cheetahs, who are just two points behind them, but the Lions cannot finish last on the log unless the Rebels claim an unlikely bonus point victory over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
“”We don’t want to be lying 13th, we want to be in the playoffs, but in January people were saying we wouldn’t win a game.
“We didn’t set winning six games as our goal, we just wanted to perform well, week by week, and we’ve shown that we can play at this level. The team has grown, they stay calm, there’s no panic. There’s a rustigheid even though you do get frustrated,” Ackermann said.
A lesser team might well have panicked when the Rebels dominated the third quarter to claim a 17-14 lead and really seemed to be getting into their stride.
But with the Rebels pressing hard deep inside the Lions half, flank Warwick Tecklenburg won a key turnover and lock Franco Mostert burst clear. A sweeping move then carried the home side into the Rebels’ 22, with replacement wing Lionel Mapoe, flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff and replacement prop Ruan Dreyer all prominent, before it was Tecklenburg who finished the thrilling move, which featured some wonderful offloads, under the poles.
The opposition then narrowly avoided – thanks to fullback Jack Debreczeni’s last-ditch tackle – conceding an extraordinary 60m intercept try to replacement hooker Armand van der Merwe, but Boshoff nevertheless extended the Lions’ lead to 27-17 with penalties in the 65th and 67th minutes.
That the tide had inextricably turned against the Rebels was confirmed in the 71st minute when eighthman and captain Scott Higginbotham, as ever one of the most physical figures on the field, was somewhat harshly yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle when clearing replacement lock Willie Britz off a ruck.
The penalty was kicked to touch for a lineout and Higginbotham’s opposite number, Warren Whiteley, who enjoyed another top-class game, swivveled over for a clinching try.
“It was a huge momentum swing when we were 17-14 up and putting the Lions under a lot of pressure, and then came a turnover,” Rebels coach Tony McGahan conceded after the match. “That put them in front and Boshoff then just kicked his goals. We could have had two more tries but both were just in touch, so it was small margins but I’m proud of the effort.”
The Lions had made a great start to the game with wing Anthony Volmink scoring in the second minute after centre Mitch Inman had dropped a regulation pass under his poles from the kick-off.
Boshoff, who succeeded with seven of his nine kicks at goal but had an even better day when it came to getting his backline away, then kicked a penalty after the Rebels sacked a rolling maul (8-0).
In the 22nd minute, the Lions came within a whisker of stretching that lead, but centre Stokkies Hanekom couldn’t gather a deft stab-through over the tryline from Boshoff. Instead, a try up the other end of the field gave the Rebels a foothold in the match.
Flank Scott Fuglistaller won a turnover penalty, scrumhalf Luke Burgess darted over the advantage line and the ball went wide where wing Tom English had plenty of space to show the Lions cover-defence a clean pair of heels.
English broke free again six minutes later, but Debreczeni missed a simple penalty that came at the resultant scrum, before succeeding in the 35th minute, sandwiched by two Boshoff penalties as the Lions went into the break 14-10 up.
When the Rebels gave the hosts a taste of their own medicine with flank Colby Fainga’a scoring from a rolling maul in the 52nd minute, Debreczeni converting, it was clear the Lions had a massive task on their hands to prevent the Melburnians from claiming their first win on South African soil.
By the end, there were no protests that the better side had not won.
“It was really good play by the Lions, they put a lot of pressure on us,” McGahan admitted.
The heroes for the Lions were their loose trio, which played like wild curs, while halfbacks Ross Cronje and Boshoff dished up quality ball for their backs.