The Lions defied some major odds stacked against them to record a brilliant 23-17 Super Rugby win over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
Warren Whiteley and his men had to deal with some major setbacks in the build-up to the game after head coach Swys de Bruin had to return home due to personal reasons, while defence coach Joey Mongalo also isn’t present after being found guilty and sentenced for indecent assault in Sydney last year.
But the Lions looked galvanised as they established a 20-0 lead by the hour mark before the substitutions of flank Kwagga Smith and tighthead Carlu Sadie seemed to disrupt their momentum and allowed the Chiefs to stage a late flurry.
A 79th minute drop goal by Elton Jantjies who started at inside centre, though sealed the win following some late robust defence..
It’s the Lions’ second straight win in Hamilton after they triumphed 36-32 in 2016.
Who was the star in this match?
Sadie was absolutely superb, producing a powerful scrumming display where he earned four scrum penalties in the first half alone, while he powered his way over the line for his team’s opening try five minute before the break from a ruck. He also pulled his weight in making vital tackles.
Key moments and themes
- The Lions based their superb first half on a sound defensive display and a great scrum. It allowed Jantjies to convert two penalties before the visitors found more fluidity on attack to score two tries as well. They certainly showed they can utilise limited opportunities well.
- The late changes to the side, with Jantjies and hooker Malcolm Marx promoted to the starting line-up after being penciled in on the bench, also seemed to work well and sowed some uncertainty among the Chiefs, who haven’t been at their best this year. Jantjies in particular revelled with the more space he had at 12 and combined well with rookie pivot Gianni Lombard.
- The Lions’ attitude on defence meant they saved two tries, with Lombard falling back after a Chief intercept, while flank Cyle Brink secured crucial turnover with the Chiefs threatening to maul themselves over in the 21st minute.
- But they will need to be a bit more potent in the last 40 minutes of matches, especially in New Zealand. They spurned a golden chance early after the turnaround when lock Marvin Orie knocked on, but one couldn’t fault the composure shown by the side, who clearly relished having the calm Warren Whiteley back.
Lions – Tries: Carlu Sadie, Aphiwe Dyantyi. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (2). Drop goal: Jantjies.
Chiefs – Tries: Sean Wainui, Nepo Laulala, Tumua Manu. Conversion: Marty McKenzie.