Lions rip Sharks to pieces
Home side score second win of Super Rugby season as visitors leave comeback far too late, writes Craig Ray at Ellis Park
CRIME is not unusual in Doornfontein, but seldom has there been such a mass-mugging in front of thousands of witnesses as the Lions upset the Sharks 38-28 to record only their second win of the season.
The home side entered the Ellis Park arena just as hungry Lions must have raced into the Coliseum in Rome 2000 years ago and delivered an opening 40 minutes to rival the best the tournament has seen this year.
By the time the shell-shocked Sharks headed to the change room to face a halftime tongue-lashing from coach John Plumtree, the Lions had scored four tries and looked to be out of sight and easily on their way to a morale-boosting win.
But the Lions started the second half seemingly intent on proving why they are languishing at the bottom of the standings - their 21-point halftime lead was cut to just seven by the 44th minute.
Defeat damaged the Sharks' realistic hopes of making the playoffs and even if they did squeeze into the post-season, it would require a long journey to face the Crusaders or Chiefs.
After such a controlled first half the Lions' lack of concentration to allow JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane to score within a minute of each other led to nervous tremors among the few remaining Ellis Park loyalists.
This victory won't save the Lions from finishing last in the South African conference, but it will make sure that the Bulls, who play them in the final week of pool play, don't go into the game with the same complacency that the Sharks showed for half this match.
The Sharks were lethargic from the start and even though they discovered their intensity after the break, the deficit was just too much to make up. Their clash against the Bulls in a month's time is a virtual knockout.
Though the Sharks scored the first points of the game through a Pat Lambie penalty after flank Derick Minnie held the ball on the deck from the kick-off, they were never really in contention.
From the restart the Lions poured into the visitors with such intent that anyone arriving from another planet would have thought it was the side in black who were at the bottom of the standings.
Flank Grant Hattingh scored after collecting an Elton Jantjies chip and then Minnie drove over from close range to really rock the visitors on to the back foot.
The return of Butch James to centre gave the back line a second attacking edge with flyhalf Jantjies pulling the strings in a narrower channel while helping himself to 18 points from four penalties and three conversions.
When Jantjies was smothered he fed James, who invariably made a telling pass or decisive kick to frustrate the Sharks defence.
Centre Lionel Mapoe carved through the Sharks midfield on a good angle to score the Lions' third try from 40m.
The Sharks replied with a needed strike through wing Lwazi Mvovo five minutes before the break, only to see their good work undone when Lions wing Deon van Rensburg sped into the left corner on the stroke of halftime to give the Lions the cushion they needed.
Lions 38 - Tries: Grant Hattingh, Derick Minnie, Lionel Mapoe, Deon van Rensburg. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (4).
Sharks 28 - Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen, Odwa Ndungane. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalties: Lambie (3).