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Ken Borland

Lions finish strong in dramatic win over Bulls 0

Posted on June 02, 2016 by Ken


The Emirates Lions shrugged off any suggestions that they might fade after returning from their epic tour of Australasia as they snatched a last-minute 22-18 win over the Vodacom Bulls in a dramatic SuperRugby match at Ellis Park on Saturday.

For 79 minutes there weren’t any tries, but there was no shortage of intensity nor excitement as the two neighbours went at each other tooth, claw and horns, flyhalves Elton Jantjies and Jacques-Louis Potgieter trading the penalties that came from hard-earned, narrow advantages.

There also cannot be any doubts about the belief within this Lions side either as, having controversially seen Jaco Kriel called up for a marginal late tackle by the TMO, the penalty being advanced into range for Potgieter to give the Bulls an 18-15 lead with less than a minute to play, they came storming up in defence to set themselves up for the dramatic winning try.

Hooker Armand van der Merwe is the sort of employee any union would want – he sits long hours on the bench but never fails to make an impact when he comes on and is a constant source of inspiration for his team-mates. The stocky 23-year-old merely added to his growing legend at Ellis Park as he barged over for the winning try after the Lions had tapped the penalty they earned after counter-rucking the Bulls off the ball from the restart.

For most of the first half, it looked as if the slow poison of the Bulls would get the better of the Lions. The visitors had dominated territory and possession, and although the attacking play of the Lions had looked sharp, they simply never had enough of the ball.

The effects of the strangulation took a while to be reflected on the scoreboard, however, as Potgieter missed an early drop-goal attempt and two long-range penalties, while Jantjies took six points from the Lions’ two forays into Bulls’ territory.

But the ferocious work of the Bulls at the breakdowns and in defence eventually took its toll.

The scrums were a terrific contest throughout and the Bulls gained an early confidence boost with a massive effort that shoved the Lions back 15 metres, earning Potgieter’s first successful kick at goals in the 26th minute.

The powerful driving play of Trevor Nyakane, Pierre Spies and Deon Stegmann earned another three points eight minutes later and then the power of the rolling maul allowed Potgieter to put the Bulls 9-6 ahead at the break.

The Lions started the second half with all the verve they are famous for, lifting the tempo and stretching the Bulls. But eventually the stout defence forced the error and the Bulls swept upfield. They looked set to score the opening try in the left corner, but the ball went astray and they could not add to their lead.

It was obviously a crucial moment as the game then “regressed” into a tremendous arm-wrestle, with penalties the only concessions either side was willing to give.

The scrum took centre stage and the penalties went this way and that as the reserve front rows came on.

Jantjies first levelled the scores at 9-9 in the 57th minute and then claimed a 12-9 lead after Morne Mellet lost his bind  and scrummed in on the loosehead side.

But the Lions were then penalised for hands in the ruck (12-12) and then the Bulls scrum won another penalty for Potgieter in the 70th minute.

The Bulls’ 15-12 lead only lasted four minutes, however, as the Lions’ maul then steamrolled their way to another penalty, kicked by Jantjies.

But the controversial Kriel penalty in the 79th minute seemed to have decided the outcome, before the Lions showed the spirit and belief that characterised the matches overseas to claim the spoils from the most dramatic of matches.


Lions – Try: Armand van der Merwe. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (5).

Bulls – Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (6).

Never-say-die Titans salvage epic draw v Lions 0

Posted on April 11, 2016 by Ken


The bravest of batting efforts by the never-say-die Unlimited Titans saw them salvage an epic draw in their Sunfoil Series match against the bizhub Highveld Lions at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Sunday, ensuring that they will go into the last weekend of the competition in prime position to claim the title.

The Titans were forced to follow on 379 runs behind the Lions and Pumelela Matshikwe’s deadly four-wicket burst just before lunch seemed to have condemned them to an innings defeat as they stumbled into the break on 219 for five.

But the tenacious Dean Elgar produced one of the finest innings of his career to bat for nine hours and score an epic 173, Qaasim Adams (71 not out in 263 minutes) and Marchant de Lange (23 not out in 85 minutes) providing immense support as the game died a natural death with the Titans having erased the deficit and scored 385 for six. By denying the second-placed Lions the 10 points for a win, the Titans will take a 12.62-point lead into the final round.

Matshikwe, probing and accurate, was superb, taking six for 58 in 31 overs and used the inconsistent bounce and a worn area outside the right-hander’s off stump from the West Lane End, that caused the ball to jag back, brilliantly.

Hardus Viljoen and Dwaine Pretorius were also threats when the ball was newer and harder, but left-arm spinner Bjorn Fortuin toiled through 31 overs on the dry pitch without success.

Test opener Elgar brought tremendous determination and a savvy game plan to the final day, but he could not have rescued the game without the help of Adams. The 31-year-old was left out of the team at some stages in the first half of the summer as the Titans tried to balance their team, but he has become an absolutely key batsman and his average in the four-day competition is now 69.66 after knocks of 73 and 71 not out against the defending champions.

The Titans began the final day on 156 for one and Elgar and Grant Mokoena survived the first hour without much interference. But that was before the introduction of Matshikwe, who clings to a line-and-length with steely determination.

Matshikwe bowled Mokoena for 27, a gutsy two-and-a-half hour knock which was ended when the batsman inside-edged a cut into his stumps.

Mokoena’s dismissal did not disrupt Elgar’s focus and the left-hander went to his 16th Sunfoil Series century and second of the season, after five hours and 17 minutes at the crease, having already faced 232 balls.

Matshikwe’s two overs from the West Lane End immediately before lunch were what undermined the Titans innings so terribly, as he used the deteriorating surface to great effect.

Theunis de Bruyn (7) was the victim of an umpiring error as he was given out caught behind off the sleeve under his arm, but Mangaliso Mosehle, who completed a disheartening pair, and Henry Davids were both comprehensively beaten and bowled for ducks by Matshikwe.

Mosehle played around his first delivery and lost his off stump as the ball nipped back, and Davids shouldered arms and was bowled as the ball jagged back a long way off the crack.

That brought Elgar and Adams together and, after playing out the over-and-a-half before lunch they set about dominating the afternoon. The left-handers were not as vulnerable to Matshikwe’s favoured area but they both had to show tremendous defensive technique and concentration as they added 110 for the sixth wicket, facing 254 balls and taking three hours out of the game.

They reached 282 for five and a fascinating contest developed between Elgar and Fortuin: the batsman would often advance and hit the spinner straight down the ground, but the 21-year-old seemed to have made a key breakthrough for the Lions when Elgar got himself into a tangle and seemed to have offered a bat/pad catch.

The umpire turned the appeal down though and Elgar and Adams notched a century partnership and took the Titans past 300.

Matshikwe returned though and claimed the wicket of Elgar, who pushed hard down the ground, but the angle from around the wicket took the ball on to the inside edge and Dominic Hendricks took a diving bat/pad catch from short mid-off.

There were still at least 25 overs left to be bowled when De Lange came in. He is normally a no-frills belter of the ball, but the Titans are chasing a trophy and he had to change his game plan.

He did a superb job with Adams, defending stoutly but taking the runs when they were on offer, another 59 runs being added as the home side survived a tense final day to ensure they are the favourites for the four-day title.

As well as the Lions played, they will be disappointed that they could not bowl the Titans out on the final day – injured wrist-spinner Eddie Leie was missed and the lack of a reverse-swing option also hurt them.

Sharks, Cheetahs & Kings get job done on epic weekend 0

Posted on February 16, 2015 by Ken

An epic weekend of SuperRugby action ended with the Sharks, Cheetahs and Southern Kings emerging as the big winners, furnishing themselves with the invaluable characteristic of being able to get the job done against the odds.

The improvement of the Sharks in their second half against the Crusaders was remarkable and their 21-17 victory looked implausible at half-time when the home side were creaking like one of the decrepit ships in the harbour not far away.

The Cheetahs showed that they now obviously have the belief to contend for the crown of Conference champions as they snuck home 26-24 against the Stormers, increasing the misery of one of the pre-tournament favourites.

And although the Southern Kings didn’t win, their 28-28 draw with the log-leading Brumbies in Canberra was one of the most unexpected results in the history of the competition.

The Sharks now lead the South African Conference by just three points from the Cheetahs, but have just come off the bye, with the Bulls and Stormers six and nine points behind respectively.

The break didn’t seem to have done the Sharks any good in the first half, though, as the Crusaders dominated the possession and territory stats and stressed the home side’s defence by attacking both close to the fringes and out wide.

The finishing of the Crusaders was poor, however, and the 11-9 half-time lead did not reflect the dominance they had enjoyed.

It was the unerring boot of flyhalf Pat Lambie that had kept the Sharks in the game with three penalties and, with their game undergoing a dramatic refurbishment after the break, he was able to kick four from four in the second half and give the Natalians just their third win in 17 matches against the Crusaders.

The boot of opposite number Tyler Bleyendaal was less precise, even though the youngster had kicked superbly out of hand in the first half. The 22-year-old stand-in for Dan Carter missed a potential five points in the first half and another six in the second, while he was no longer the master of the territorial game either. Even wing JP Pietersen was more effective with the boot after the break.

The scoreboard was still in the Crusaders’ favour, however, heading into the final 10 minutes at 17-15. It was the Sharks scrum, which was uncertain in the first half, which turned the contest as a tremendous shove earned Lambie a penalty to give the home side an 18-17 lead.

The clincher came with four minutes remaining and was due to an inconsequential ruck infringement by the Crusaders on their own ball.

But the Sharks were deserving winners, keeping the ball for longer in the second half, and their forwards producing a superb effort spearheaded by Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and the highly impressive young lock, Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Burton Francis kicked an angled penalty after the hooter to also steal the plaudits in the Cheetahs’ 26-24 win over the Stormers.

Having earned a reputation in previous seasons for always losing the close games, the Cheetahs showed remarkable composure and belief to end a six-year losing streak against the Stormers and to avenge two narrow defeats against them last year. It was also their fifth successive win, to mark their best ever run in SuperRugby.

Replacement wing Damian de Allende’s failure to remove his hands from a ruck as the Stormers tried to repel wave-after-wave of desperate last attack by the Cheetahs led to the penalty, which was contentious. But it was fair that the last piece of fortune should fall the Cheetahs’ way because referee Stuart Berry had earlier seen fit to award the Stormers a try despite accidental offsides in the build-up and a crucial 71st-minute ruck penalty when Heinrich Brüssow looked hard done by and which infuriated the hosts.

The crowning of Francis as hero only came after a shaky last 10 minutes when he had missed a relatively straightforward penalty and a drop goal (having slotted a brilliant one on the hour mark) and had kicked the ball dead to concede a scrum in the final minute, inside the Cheetahs’ half.

But the massive scrum that followed, earning the Cheetahs a tighthead, was the obvious match-winning moment, allowing the home side to launch those last forays that earned Francis his shot at glory.

The play of the Stormers was inconsistent, ranging from the sublime to the lethargic and the number of errors they made meant the Cheetahs were always in the game.

Having competed so well in the opening exchanges, the Cheetahs were in a state of some shock at half-time as the Stormers scored two tries in the last five minutes of the first half to open up a 15-7 lead.

The second try should never have been, though, as Gio Aplon, having re-gathered his own chip over the defence, then grubbered into one of his own players standing in front of him, which should have been called for offsides. It was during a typically helter-skelter, scrappy period of play, but the information would have been readily available to referee Berry had he referred it, like so many other decisions, to the TMO. Then again, perhaps the Cheetahs players should have put up more of a fuss.

But the Cheetahs struck early in the second half, Elton Jantjies being penalised for a judo-throw tackle and replacement scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius then snapping up an attempted box-kick practically off opposite number Nic Groom’s boot and racing away from 45m for a superb try.

It came at a cost, though, as Pretorius strained his hamstring during his sprint, forcing replacement wing Ryno Benjamin to play scrumhalf. Fortunately he fitted the bill as he has played there before for the Springbok Sevens team, and it characterised the Cheetahs’ determination to succeed whatever the obstacles, which included a dysfunctional lineout.

The Stormers are not the only bemused pre-tournament favourites at the moment, though, with the Brumbies wondering how on earth they couldn’t beat the Kings in Canberra.

The answers lie in how magnificently the Kings defended, but also in how the Brumbies chose to attack the tournament newcomers.

Having started brightly, using their big strike runners to narrow the defence and then going wide as they built an early 13-0 lead, the Brumbies declined to use the width of the field in the second half.

It played into the hands of the phenomenal Kings defence at close quarters, with flank Wimpie van der Walt leading the way with an extraordinary 19 tackles, missing none, to win the man of the match award for one of the most ferocious displays seen this season.

It was Van der Walt and excellent fellow loose forward Cornell du Preez who had carried the ball strongly to allow prop Schalk Ferreira the momentum to score the Kings’ opening try in the 22nd minute.

The Kings lost a couple of lineouts and hardly ever retained possession from the kick-offs to make life even harder for themselves, but Van der Walt scored from a brilliant rolling maul to keep the gap to just 14-19 at half-time.

For whatever reason, Jake White’s Brumbies have been unable to give of their best for two weekends now and their lack of focus saw the Kings claim the lead just six minutes into the second half as a dropped pass allowed Sergeal Petersen to hack the ball away and give chase. The visitors won the turnover, scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo holding the ball up well before providing Du Preez with the scoring pass.

It was clear the Brumbies were now in danger of a shock defeat, even though the Kings’ lead only lasted four minutes as Vergallo’s clearance from the kick-off was charged down, leading to a penalty.

But it was the Kings, learning about rugby at this level with prodigious speed, who had all the answers in the closing minutes. Even a harsh yellow card to Ferreira, which contributed to two Brumbies’ scrum penalties, and a missed penalty in front of the poles by George Whitehead failed to derail them and the final minute saw them hard on attack.

The Brumbies conceded a string of penalties as the clock ticked down, and the hooter had long gone when the admirable Bandise Maku made good ground after tapping the penalty and the tenacious Du Preez muscled his way through the tackles of four Australians to clinch the most heroic of draws.

All Blacks declare Springboks worthy winners 0

Posted on November 04, 2014 by Ken

The All Blacks declared the Springboks worthy winners of their epic Ellis Park Test and said the home side’s ability to put them under pressure had made it tough for them to get into the game.

“They put us under pressure and caught us on our heels a bit. That meant the momentum was against us, the core roles at the set-piece weren’t always there and the pressure led to us coughing up the ball, simple passes went down. So that made it a hard old day, giving back easy ball  to let guys like Duane Vermeulen run at us,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said after the 25-27 defeat.

“Firstly, my heart tells me the Springboks probably deserved to shade it,” coach Steve Hansen admitted. “We didn’t start well enough, they put us under a lot of pressure, and we just gave them too much of a head start.

“In the first half, the ball we got from the set-pieces was of no great quality so we weren’t able to build any pressure of our own at all, which is a key element of rugby. In the second half, we maintained the ball better and it came down to a 55m penalty under pressure, but the right team won and congratulations to them.”

Although the Springboks produced a phenomenal first half of dazzling attacking rugby to seize control of the Test, you can always count on the All Blacks finishing strongly and they turned the tables on the home side before Pat Lambie’s 55m penalty in the 79th minute finally sealed a nailbiting win.

“This team hates losing, it sucks, but I’m still bloody proud that we nearly snuck it at the end. They never gave up, you could see that by the way they attacked with 90 seconds to go, and at the last ruck the penalty could have gone either way then we’d be sitting here happy chappy,” Hansen said.

McCaw said the Test would go down as another classic in the annals of the great Springboks/All Blacks rivalry.

“There’s very little between these two sides as everybody could see today. As a youngster, dreaming of playing for the All Blacks, at Ellis Park against the Springboks would be it every time. It’s hard and tough and you have to be spot on to get the result.

“It’s a great place to play, I love it here, the atmosphere is brilliant and you generally get a dry ball. We just have to be a bit better,” McCaw said.


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