Everyone predicted it was going to be very close and in the end there was precious little to separate the teams as the Lions edged the Sharks 26-19 in their Super Rugby opener at Ellis Park on Saturday.
A sign of the tension was how Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies fluffed two penalties and his Sharks counterpart Robert du Preez one as they both tried to build some scoreboard pressure in the last half an hour.
The Lions outscored the Sharks by two tries to one in the opening half but in the second period both teams scored two each.
With less than four minutes left in the contest it was the Sharks who camped on the Lions goal area and only desperate defence held them out.
Who was the star of this match?
Lions centre Lionel Mapoe was simply outstanding. Apart from his brace of tries, which brought the Lions back into the match when the Sharks threatened to seize control, his duel with new Springbok Lykhanyo Am was compelling. He defended his channel decently too.
Key moments and themes
- The Sharks rocked the Lions by scoring the first try of the game in the eighth minute through flyhalf Robert du Preez to go into a 7-0 lead. They shrewdly attacked the line from close range before creating the space out wide.
- The Lions, however, hit back when Mapoe ghosted through a gap from a set-piece. Yet it was young debutant winger Aphiwe Dyantyi that had everyone gasping with a fantastic chip and chase effort in the 23rd minute. It was a sensational piece of skill. Dyantyi certainly showed signs of future class.
- Whereas the Sharks at times bossed the Lions in the contact areas, it was the Lions scrum that had the Sharks retreating for most of the opening half. It was a bad start to the promising Thomas du Toit’s switch to tighthead and will concern the national setup, who gave their blessing for the move. He was replaced after the break by John-Hubert Meyer and only then did matters slightly improve for the visitors.
- With the margins becoming increasingly smaller, flanker Kwagga Smith scored the Lions’ crucial fourth try by taking it on himself to take a quick tap and, after he was stopped short of the line, he simply used used his power to wrestle himself over the line for a crucial 26-19 advantage for the home side. It’s those moments of inspiration that make the difference.
Lions – Tries: Lionel Mapoe (2), Aphiwe Dyantyi, Kwagga Smith. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3).
Sharks – Tries: Robert du Preez, Sbu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Du Preez (2).