It was never going to be easy but the Lions got the job done with a hard-fought 27-10 Super Rugby win over the Sharks in Durban on Saturday night.
It propelled them to the top of the overall Super Rugby log.
But the big question remains – did the Sharks prefer a playoff match at Ellis Park instead of the arduous travel to Christchurch?
It will set up the Lions for home ground advantage in the remainder of the playoff stages but it would also set them up for a return match with the Sharks in next weekend’s quarterfinal match-up.
The Hurricanes surprise win over the previously unbeaten Crusaders earlier in the day opened the door for the Lions to go top, but the Sharks never showed that they intended to lose by giving the Lions all the heat especially in the scrums and physical exchanges.
But they tailed off in the second half.
Who was the star in this match?
Most people probably would have thought it should have gone to Lions flankers Jaco Kriel or Kwagga Smith.
But if you consider the work that inside centre Harold Vorster went through in defence and attack, he deserves the plaudits. He was a constant force in the collision areas and put pressure on the impressive Sharks centre Andre Esterhuizen.
Key moments of the match
- The Lions attacking mindset was evident when the hooter went for halftime but the team kept on pushing and with the ball going through the hands of centre Lionel Mapoe, wing Courtnall Skosan and flank Kwagga Smith, it was finally fullback Andries Coetzee who touched down next to the corner flag for a halftime lead of 13-10. It proved a springboard.
- That patience was even more impressive given that, with three minutes to go to the halftime, Sharks right wing Kobus van Wyk brought the homeside back (10-8) in the game after Elton Jantjies made a poor kick-in from the 22.
- Jantjies might have missed the conversions of all three Lions tries but it was his four penalties that helped the Lions apply pressure on the scoreboard for a 19-10 lead by the 54th minute and a 17-point cushion in the end.
- Captain Jaco Kriel’s try in the 64th minute all but sealed the contest for the Lions in what was the visitors third try at that stage and a lead of 24-10 but it seemed as though the Sharks dropped off on their intensity from the first half. Did they keep all their energy maybe for the return match in the playoffs at Ellis Park in the playoffs next weekend?
Sharks: Try: Kobus van Wyk. Conversion: Garth April. Penalty: April (1).
Lions: Tries: Malcolm Marx, Andries Coetzee, Jaco Kriel. Penalties: Jantjies (4).