The Absa Currie Cup exploded into life on Friday night as the MTN Golden Lions launched a gutsy fightback that was denied at the hooter by a Western Province penalty kick that saw a pulsating game end in a 31-all draw.
WP had attacked like men possessed in the last 10 minutes, eschewing one kickable penalty with six minutes to go before eventually deciding when they got another chance in front of the posts with a minute left that discretion is the better part of valour and that a draw is better than a defeat.
It was understandable that WP had to think about it – they were in a strong attacking position, the Lions looked out on their feet, and a try would have been their fourth, thus securing them a five point haul from the game had they got it right.
Instead they ended up with two, but as skipper Deon Fourie said afterwards “we will take the two points away from home”.
But it was a moral victory of sorts for the Lions, who trailed 25-10 at halftime and 22-3 at one stage, as they ended up securing a four-try bonus point that enabled them to take three log points away from the match.
Few would argue against the contention that it was a fair result.
Just as WP were brilliant with their fast start, with their patient build-ups and good angles of running and variations in depth of attack producing what was easily their most clinical half of the domestic season thus far, so the Lions were outstanding in the second.
They were arguably helped massively by a marginal call by the TMO, who ruled that Damian de Allende had dived on Lions fullback Marnitz Boshoff as he slid towards the line a few minutes into the second half.
Province led 25-10 at the time, and it was a huge call for it to be ruled a penalty try, with De Allende, otherwise so impressive, being yellow carded at the same time.
It did appear that the call, which would be argued long and hard by WP supporters, and it certainly surprised the SuperSport commentators, changed the momentum of the game.
But that should still not detract from the guts and tenacity displayed by a Lions team that over the past two weekends have shown in no uncertain terms that they are going to be strong contenders.
They had some marginal calls go against them against the Sharks in Durban a few weeks ago, so if they got the rub of the green this time, they perhaps deserved it on the swings and roundabout theory.
And talking of theories, this was definitely a game that vindicated the theory that these days so much is determined by the mind.
Lions assistant coach Swys de Bruyn even said as much at halftime in trying to explain why the Lions were 15-0 down in as many minutes at the start of the game.
According to him, the Lions had been so comprehensively victorious against the Bulls the previous week that it was almost inevitable they wouldn’t be completely switched on at the start.
WP took full advantage, with De Allende going over for the first try in the sixth minute, with Cheslin Kolbe contributing with an inside pass from right near the touchline. It had been all WP at that stage, and De Allende himself had been only just held up at the corner flag a minute earlier.
Kolbe then scored one himself, a brilliant solo effort that rivaled Lions wing Anthony Volmink’s effort against the Sharks.
WP won eight turn-overs against three in the first half, and Kolbe’s try was the product of one of them, with the young left wing cleverly placing the ball when stopped just outside his own 22 and then spotting the space that he needed to set off on a 60-metre run for a glorious try.
That made it 12-0 after nine minutes, and WP could easily have had a third when Juan de Jongh made a poor decision when not passing after another impressive long-range build-up by the Province backs. Instead the visitors did get a penalty, which Kurt Coleman kicked.
The Lions threatened a brief fightback which led to a Boshoff penalty, but WP were across the line again a few minutes later through Tiaan Liebenberg.
WP at that stage were struggling in the scrums while neither side had a clear ascendancy at the lineouts, but it was Province who were enjoying the most continuity with their urgent clearing of the rucks and mauls.
A WP mistake allowed big CJ van der Linde to kick through and gather as he surged up towards the Province line, and then the ball was spun to the right for Deon Helberg to score out wide.
A Boshoff conversion made it 22-10 but the Cape team were on the board again just before the break with another penalty.
Apart from the penalty try, the other Lions tries in the second half were scored by Jantjies, who made his point against the team he played Super Rugby for this season with a slippery performance in the pivot position, and skipper Derick Minnie.
The latter was particularly impressive on the night, and was rivaled for his influence on the game only by the outstanding lock Franco van der Merwe and substitute flank Jaco Kriel.
Kriel’s impact was as big as the penalty try in the Lions’ favour, and his strong runs were responsible for getting the Lions across the advantage line late in the game.
For WP it was a disappointing second half, not dissimilar in a way to the second 40 minutes against the Bulls, a match they also drew.
However, they do remain unbeaten, and will probably be playing the Sharks next week for the right to end the first half of the competition at the top of the log.
MTN Golden Lions 31 – Tries: Deon Helberg, Elton Jantjies and Derick Minnie; Penalty try. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff 4; Penalty: Marnitz Boshoff.
DHL Western Province 31 – Tries: Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe and Tiaan Liebenberg. Conversions: Kurt Coleman 2; Penalties: Kurt Coleman 4.