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Ken Borland

Lions show they can win well without the ball 0

Posted on July 23, 2016 by Ken


The Lions had to show they are able to win without the ball and they did that to impressive effect at Ellis Park on Saturday night as they beat the Crusaders 42-25 in their SuperRugby quarterfinal.

The Lions probably only enjoyed about 40% of possession and territory, but their defence was superb and they showed a ruthless streak when they did have the ball, clinical finishing giving them five tries.

It was one-way traffic in the first 10 minutes though as the Lions scored two tries to settle their nerves and give them a 12-0 lead which the Crusaders chipped away at, but could never entirely eliminate.

After flank Warwick Tecklenburg had barged over the advantage line, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk made a good decision to go left and wing Courtnall Skosan showed lovely footwork to step past a couple of defenders and then race away from the halfway line for a superb second-minute try.

De Klerk was once again prominent in the Lions’ second try five minutes later as he intercepted a pass and led a breakaway from their own territory, Skosan loomed up in support and was stopped just short of the tryline, illegally, leading to a penalty.

Sensing blood, the Lions kicked to touch and got the rolling maul going and this time there was no avoiding a yellow card for the Crusaders when they sacked it illegally, lock Luke Romano being sent off the field by referee Craig Joubert.

That penalty was also kicked to touch and, a couple of phases after the lineout, bulldozer centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg went over for the try.

Elton Jantjies converted and seven minutes later he added a penalty after De Klerk had linked well with his forwards and backs and decoy runners had caused some confusion in the Crusaders defence.

The Lions were 15-0 up but they spent most of the second quarter pinned in their own territory and having to defend courageously, making tackle-after-tackle, to keep the Crusaders out.

While the visitors showed excellent ball-retention, most of the Lions’ problems were related to their poor tactical kicking and not getting enough distance on their clearing kicks.

Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga kicked a 19th-minute penalty and the Crusaders eventually made their territorial dominance count in terms of tries when another telling dart by wing Johnny McNicholl, who had been a handful on attack, led to outside centre Ryan Crotty dotting the ball down on the side of the post.

Mo’unga’s conversion closed the gap to 15-10 and the momentum was certainly with the Crusaders.

But the Lions brushed aside the difficulties of the last half-hour, a power scrum winning a penalty, which was again used to set the rolling maul, from which hooker Malcolm Marx scored.

Jantjies converted and the Lions were far more comfortable on the scoreboard – 22-10 up – than they were in reality at halftime.

But the Crusaders are a skilful side good at building pressure and they kept the ball through multiple phases at the start of the second half, trapping the Lions offsides and earning Mo’unga another penalty (13-22).

The Lions are perhaps too reliant on De Klerk using clearing kicks from the base, which are inevitably going to be more like an up-and-under than a long, raking touchfinder, but when Jantjies did manage to kick long and force the Crusaders back for a 22 drop out, it led to a penalty advantage and the flyhalf slotted a neat drop goal for the Lions to rebuild their lead.

The Crusaders were disappointed with the penalty count against them and they gave Jantjies another shot at goal in the 61st minute, the Lions getting front-foot ball as Janse van Rensburg crashed through the advantage line yet again.

The kicking game of the Crusaders was much better than the Lions’ and it earned them their second try when fullback Israel Dagg put pressure on the home side trying to field an up-and-under, the ball went loose and was tidied up by Mo’unga. He made it inside the Lions’ 22 before feeding replacement scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond for an easy run-in.

Mo’unga’s conversion made it 20-28 and the result was obviously back in the balance with 17 minutes remaining.

But the surprise substitution of the outstanding Janse van Rensburg brought immediate rewards. His replacement Howard Mnisi put outside centre Lionel Mapoe away with a sublime first touch, the Springbok incumbent racing through and then showing good composure to wait for the arrival of wing Ruan Combrinck in support. The power finish of the new international completed probably the try of the match.

On a special evening for the Lions, it was fantastic that some of their unsung heroes like Mnisi, Skosan and Tecklenburg produced some of the biggest plays.

Mnisi was in the thick of things again just five minutes later as his big tackle on McNicholl led to a turnover, which was sent wide, Mapoe chipping infield and replacement scrumhalf Ross Cronje getting to the ball first and then fighting his way over the line.

Unfortunately, he injured himself in the process and his fitness is a concern for next weekend’s semi-final at Ellis Park.

With Jantjies’ conversion making it 42-20, the Lions no longer had to worry and an attempt to run the ball in their own 22 instead gave the Crusaders a consolation try through replacement flyhalf Ben Volavola.

But the Lions were convincing winners and by beating the seven-time champions and playoff experts, they have marked themselves as strong contenders for the title.

If they are as clinical on attack and as determined in defence as they were against the Crusaders, it would be silly to bet against them in their home semifinal next weekend.



Lions fix their defence & cut through WP’s to win final 0

Posted on October 24, 2015 by Ken


The Golden Lions said before the Currie Cup final that they would have to fix the defensive errors that made things close in the semi-final against the Free State Cheetahs, and they did that to great effect while consistently breaking through the Western Province lines on their way to a 32-24 victory and the title at Ellis Park on Saturday.

The scoreboard was a one-sided 29-10 two minutes into the second half, but the lopsided score masked how well the Lions had defended and how soft a couple of their tries had been.

There were nerves all around at the start as both kickers made mistakes, Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff missing two early penalties, but the home side were looking dangerous, making inroads as Western Province tended to tackle around the chest and were also quick to fan out in defence, making them vulnerable to the inside-pass.

These two factors came together perfectly for the Lions in the 14th minute as exciting new outside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg muscled through the too-high tackles of Juan de Jongh and Sikhumbuzo Notshe in midfield and broke clear into Western Province territory.

He held on to the ball too long and it was knocked loose by the tackler, but livewire fullback Andries Coetzee was on hand to pick up and continue the attack. From the next ruck, Warren Whiteley passed out to Boshoff, who immediately passed back inside for the eighthman to burst through a big gap and score the opening try.

Six minutes later, another crucial missed tackle by the visitors saw Coetzee go around the outside without much trouble. Western Province again ignored the close-in channels at the ruck and scrumhalf Ross Cronje threw a short pass and then got the ball immediately back on the inside, dashing over for a try without a hand being laid on him.

Western Province were missing tackles and making basic errors like not finding touch on penalty kicks, losing their own lineouts and kicking turnover ball like tightheads from their powerful scrum straight into touch.

Flyhalf Robert du Preez did kick a 27th-minute penalty to get Western Province on the board, but the Lions threatened to make the final one of the less thrilling spectacles of the season when they scored their third try to claim a 19-3 lead.

Scrumhalf Cronje might not be one of the most highly-rated players in this impressive Lions outfit, but he is an important cog in their fluent attacking play and he will always remember the 2015 Currie Cup final as he scored his second try on his way to winning the man of the match award.

Cronje threw a lovely dummy from the base of a ruck and fought his way through another high and ineffectual tackle to score.

Boshoff then kicked a 38th-minute penalty and the Lions were in firm control with a 22-3 lead and threatening to run away with the final.

Western Province badly needed a way back into the match and it came via their powerful scrum, providing the perfect platform close to the line for Du Preez to knife through for a much-needed try and then convert to bring them back into the game at 10-22 at the break.

The Fat Lady had certainly not sung yet, but she did begin warming up again as the Lions scored two minutes into the second half.

Janse van Rensburg was again a muscular presence in forcing his way between two poor tackle attempts to dot down and round off a strong attack that featured a mini-break by flank Kwagga Smith.

Boshoff converted and the Lions’ lead was back to 19 points (29-10) and the situation was desperate for Western Province.

Once they managed to hang on to the ball for a while, they were able to bring their lethal back three into the game and fullback Cheslin Kolbe was able to scythe through an outside gap to put WP in the red zone, from where eighthman Nizaam Carr’s pace, power and nifty stepping was too much for even the Lions’ defence.

Du Preez converted and suddenly the visitors were two tries away (17-29) with half-an-hour remaining.

Boshoff, however, slotted a crucial long-range penalty from 51 metres after replacement prop Oli Kebble had been penalised for a dangerous tackle, which forced Western Province to score three times.

Their powerful scrum forced a penalty, which was kicked to touch, allowing Western Province’s rolling maul to surge over the tryline, Notshe getting the try.

Coleman converted to make it 24-32, but Western Province continued to lose lineout and breakdown ball to stymie their comeback, and a harsh yellow card to replacement lock Chris van Zyl, for not using his arms in clearing out a ruck, was the final blow.

To go through a Currie Cup season unbeaten is a remarkable achievement, not seen since the Natal Sharks did it in 1996, and the Lions and their coaches deserve enormous credit.

Johan Ackermann has honed their pack into a tremendous unit, but locks Franco Mostert and Lourens Erasmus stood out on Saturday in their efforts to ensure momentum for the Lions.

Their hard-working loose trio brings tremendous presence to the breakdowns and Janse van Rensburg and Coetzee took the attack to the opposition most effectively.

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