The MTN Golden Lions put in an inspired performance to upstage the table-topping Steval Pumas 23-14 (halftime 10-0) in their Vodacom Cup clash at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday.
An inspired kicking display from flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff, who was successful with a drop goal and all four of his attempts at poles, proved to be the catalyst, and a well-rounded team effort was capped off by tries from flankers Derick Minnie and Jaco Kriel.
The only action for the home crowd to savour came in the form of a controversial try by winger Rosco Speckman and a consolation score for Franke Herne in injury time, as they largely struggled to penetrate a well-drilled Lions defence.
Despite suffering their first reverse of the season, the Pumas remain top of the North Section standings on 25 points.
The Lions’ much-needed win sees them move up to fourth place on 16 points, and they will now have their sights set on the playoffs after two successive wins.
Neither side showed great enterprise in the opening exchanges, but the Lions began to assert their authority after the 10-minute mark.
Sustained pressure led to a succession of penalties, but the visitors bravely decided to hunt for the try instead of going for posts. It paid dividends in the 13th minute, as a rolling maul from an ensuing lineout saw Minnie cross the whitewash to open the scoring.
Boshoff slotted the difficult conversion to continue his perfect record with the boot this season, but the hosts had a chance to hit back just six minutes later with a penalty right in front of the Lions’ uprights.
However, flyhalf Carl Bezuidenhout’s effort was wayward, and his side still trailed 7-0.
Despite having the better of possession and territory, the Pumas were unable to put points on the board, and it was the dependable Boshoff who extended his team’s lead with a penalty in the 28th minute.
The home crowd were forced to endure a frustrating end to the opening period, as their team setup camp in the Gauteng-based outfit’s half without mounting any meaningful attacks, and the 10-0 scoreline was a credit to the Lions’ defence.
It took a moment of controversy – and brilliance – to ignite the second half, as the Pumas won a penalty on their 10-metre line in the 51st minute.
The quickly-taken tap released left-winger Speckman, and he beat two defenders on the touchline to score in the corner.
Upon review to the TMO, it appeared as though the pass Speckman received was well forward, but the third official surprisingly allowed the try to stand.
There was thus an element of justice to the penalty slotted by Boshoff in the 57th minute, and his superbly taken drop goal three minutes later took the visitors out to a more comfortable 16-7 lead.
The Lions were simply relentless, and a disciplined display with ball in hand starved the Pumas of any possession.
The killer blow came with eight minutes remaining, as they again elected to take a quick tap from a penalty inside their opponents’ 22-metre line.
The hosts were powerless to stop the momentum, and Kriel crashed over, before Boshoff converted to put the Lions out of sight.
Scant consolation came for the Pumas at the death, as substitute hooker Herne muscled his way over from a quick tap, but the try and ensuing conversion merely flattered the scoreline as the Lions ran out well-deserved winners.
STEVAL PUMAS – Tries: Rosco Speckman, Franke Herne; Conversions: Carl Bezuidenhout, Coenie van Wyk
MTN GOLDEN LIONS– Tries: Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel; Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (2); Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff (2); Drop Goal: Marnitz Boshoff