The Crusaders became the first team in Vodacom Super Rugby to cross the Indian Ocean this year and register a win, as they halted the Lions' run at Ellis Park in Johannesburg with a workmanlike 28-7 victory.
The visitors led from start to finish, but were helped by a plethora of mistakes by a Lions side so eager and desperate to run the ball, that they forgot all patience and paid for it in the process.
The Crusaders are hardly the side that won seven titles in their glory days, but they are still streetwise enough to know when to attack and when to be patient, waiting for the mistakes.
And on a cool night in Johannesburg the Lions gave them more than enough turnover ball, eventually paying for their bravado as they tried to go toe-to-toe with the New Zealand side.
Twenty one turnovers tells a story of a Lions team that had the bravado, had the attacking psyche, but chose their moments incorrectly during the game.
As the Crusaders pulled away at the end of the game – through two late tries that came off turnovers in the 22m area – the fans leaving the park were simply shaking their heads at what could have been if a little more patience had been employed.
Coach Johan Ackermann talks week in and week out about how the players love to back themselves and how the team won’t put pressure on itself by looking at the log. But when you’re in fourth position and playing at home, sometimes it is better to play the percentages and look for the win.
It is true the Lions have done so much more than was expected of them this season, but given their start to the competition, they have shown what they could have done.
The Lions like to play an open game, but the decision-making of some of the players at times left a lot to be desired.
COUGH UP THE BALL
The Crusaders kept it simple – playing it in the Lions' half and fed off their mistakes, and in this regard there were many. To illustrate this, the Crusaders kicked almost double the amount than the Lions, using the field position to their advantage as they simply waited for the Lions to cough up the ball.
Flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff had a forgettable game, with his talismanic status at the ground gone as he missed a penalty and a drop goal, and almost gifted the Crusaders a try in the second half when he tried to run out of his own 22, with only captain Warren Whiteley saving Ryan Crotty from scoring his second try.
And while the Lions made their breaks – flanker Willie Britz, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and midfielder Lionel Mapoe finding gaps at will in the Crusaders defence, their execution was nowhere near as clinical as it should have been.
The Crusaders led 6-0 at the break by virtue of taking their chances at goal – but it was hardly a commanding lead.
That all changed early in the second half as Crotty took an inside ball and headed straight up the middle to beat the cover defence and score.
But the Lions hit back almost immediately with Britz taking the ball up twice and Mapoe very strong on attack before receiving the final pass to beat Johnny McNicholl’s tackle and touch the ball down in the corner.
At 13-7 it seemed we would have a game on our hands, and the Lions certainly obliged with some telling sniping runs. But on every occasion they would cough up the ball. Even when their rolling maul got going, the Crusaders seemed to be allowed at will to collapse it, without intervention from the match officials.
In the end the Crusaders' defence held out and surged back, with Crotty first being denied by Whiteley, before some more suicidal runs saw turnovers that put Andy Ellis and Kieron Fonotia on the scoreboard late in the game.
The Lions saw the match points drift away as their boisterous crowd filtered out knowing that while this Lions team is exciting on attack, they still perhaps lack some of the maturity on attack that top sides in the competition do.
LIONS - Tries: Lionel Mapoe. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff.
CRUSADERS - Tries: Ryan Crotty, Andy Ellis, Kieron Fonotia. Conversions: Colin Slade, Israel Dagg, Tyler Bleyendaal. Penalties: Colin Slade(2), Israel Dagg.