The MTN Golden Lions managed to do what everyone expected them to as they picked up a full house of five log points in beating GWK Griquas 35-28 in their final Absa Currie Cup league match of the season on Saturday.
But what wouldn’t have been anticipated was how hard Griquas, who will have to play a promotion-relegation game against First Division log winners, the Pumas, next weekend, made them fight for their victory. Indeed, for much of the game even the two log points that the Lions needed to qualify for the play-offs appeared to be in doubt as Griquas threw everything at them, and it was only a Willie Britz try five minutes from time that clinched the Lions the win.
The Lions started strongly enough as they capitalised on a Griquas mistake at the kick-off to use a strong scrum on the halfway as a platform to launch the early play into the strike-zone, and a penalty kicked by Marnitz Boshoff enabled them to take a 3-0 lead after just two minutes.
But that was the last the Lions produced in terms of scoring for the rest of the first quarter, and it would also be accurate to say that they hardly saw any ball in the next 18 minutes either. With Lourens Adriaanse back from Springbok duty to lead them and leading by example, the visitors dominated the early battle for possession, and after 15 minutes the statistics reflected that they had enjoyed 75% of the ball.
By then they were also 9-3 up thanks to three Gouws Prinsloo penalties, and they were full value for that advantage. It grew in an increment of seven in the 20th minute, with Griquas running from deep inside their own pass and Rocco Jansen aping the absent Willie le Roux by kicking over the advancing Lions defence and gathering himself before going over for a try that was converted to make it 16-3.
Suddenly it was a long way back for the Lions, who not for the first time this season started a game at their headquarters slowly. But also not for the first time, they fought their way back, and it would probably be a fair summation to say that they remain a Curate’s egg – in other words they are good in parts, bad in parts.
The Lions were good in the remaining part of the first half, with a period of sustained pressure eventually realising a try that Julian Redelinghuys rounded off near the posts after the attack had been launched by Lions skipper Derrick Minnie bashing his way across the advantage line at a lineout. Boshoff was on target with that conversion, but he missed the next, which was attempted from the angle after wing Anthony Volmink had chased down a bouncing ball after a good chip from Andries Coetzee.
That left it 16-15 after 31 minutes, but Griquas quickly stabilized and were able to stretch the lead back to four points through another Prinsloo penalty to make it 19-15 at halftime.
Prinsloo added another three pointer after the break to make it a seven point game, but then the Lions started to get some momentum, and a period of sustained pressure eventually saw the bloodied hooker Willie Wepener go over near the posts to level the scores at 22-all with 29 minutes remaining.
Three minutes later Boshoff added a penalty that put the Lions back into the lead for the first time since the sixth minute, but Prinsloo bounced Griquas back with a penalty of his own and then the two kickers traded another kick each to see the scores locked at 28-all going into the last 10 minutes. A draw would have been enough to secure the Lions a semifinal spot, but they weren’t happy with that, and Britz brought the crowd to its feet as he took an inside ball in the 75th minute and weaved his way through the wrong-footed defence to run 30 metres and dot down the match winning try.
The Lions will have to be a lot better if they want to win their semifinal next Saturday, and they can start the build-up week by addressing their disciplinary issues. Prinsloo kicked no less than seven penalties which is a reflection that the Lions’ discipline just wasn’t good enough.
For Griquas it was a case of returning after two weeks of heavy defeats to the pattern established earlier in the season of conceding narrow defeats. It was another of those games that could so easily have gone the other way, although four tries to one reflects that the Lions did deserve the victory.
MTN GOLDEN LIONS – Tries: Julian Redelinghuys, Anthony Volmink, Willie Wepener and Willie Britz; Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff 3; Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff 3.
GWK GRIQUAS – Try: Rocco Jansen; Conversion: Gouws Prinsloo; Penalties: Gouws Prinsloo 7.