Lions hold on against Highlanders

The Lions held on for a hard-earned 11-6 win over the Highlanders with a stuttering performance in their Super 14 Round Two match at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It was a wet weekend for rugby. It was cold in the north and wet in the south – except for Christchurch surprisingly, and the rugby, too, was largely miserable. It rained in Cape Town, Canberra, Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg. Maybe it was the weather’s fault that the rugby was not great . Maybe that is why it was not a great match at Ellis Park Johannesburg where the Lions did everything to win by a long way except win by a long way.

Hannibal, the Carthaginian, was one of the greatest military commanders of all time. He gave Rome many a hiding, but his brother said to him – in Phoenician but recorded in Latin for our convenience – “You know how to win but you don’t know how to use your victory.” What he said was true, for eventually the Romans beat him.

The Lions against the Highlanders threatened to be Hannibals. They knew how to create try-scoring opportunities but in the end it seemed that the Highlanders, with so few chances, would beat them. They had five gilt-edged opportunities to score tries, well-fashioned tries, and did not do so. Their only try, the only try of the match, came from a mixture of Highland error and Human opportunism.

Wylie Human scored the only try of the match in the 18th minute. Near the half-way line the Highlanders went to their left where their wing Greg Zambach was isolated. Being isolated and confronted with Human he decided to chip. His left-footed chip was more of a putt – straight into the arms of Human who ran past him and fifty metres ahead scored the try that made the score 8-3.

Before that Louis Strydom had kicked a penalty when Josh Blackie went off-side and then Callum Bruce equalised when Human was penalised for using his hands wrongfully at a tackler.

Nothing much happened besides that. Strydom kicked for the Lions and Jimmy Cowan kicked for the Highlanders. The Lions scrummed well but the Highlanders did well in the line-outs. The Highlanders scrumming improved as the match went on and the Lions’ line-outs degenerated.

So much for the altitude bogey. The Highlanders from sea level Otago seemed to end stronger than the Lions of the Highveld.

After Human’s try the Lions carried on attacking. The Highlanders were hardly in the game. From a line-out the Lions swept left and Jaco Pretorius, across from the left wing was stopped near the line. The Lions made a penalty into a five-metre line-out but the Highlanders coped and moved them back till Human, no kicker he, tried a drop at goal. This was charged down and a few seconds later the Lions were in terrible trouble and forced to yield a five-metre scrum.

But they came back and were mauling a line-out when Hoani MacDonald collapsed it and was penalised. Strydom goaled to make it 11-3 at half-time after a half in which the Lions had had the lions’ share of possession – roughly 60% of it.

In the next 40 minutes there was just one score. Just one, and that a penalty by veteran Charlie Hore who came to flyhalf and made a huge difference to the tempo of the game. When he made the score 11-6 there were 11 minutes left. The Highlanders could have done the Roman turnover.

But there the Lions had chances to score. Right at the start of the half Willem Alberts broke from a scrum, Human ran with the ball and Cobus Grobbelaar was over but the television match official arrived that he had not got the ball down as Cowan clung to him.

The Lions attacked again from the five-metre scrum but big Zimbabwean prop Brian Mujati lost the ball.

The Lions attacked from a line-out from right to left but Louis Ludik was into touch. Later he was tackled out at the cornerflag with Jaque Fourie begging for an inside pass. They actually got over the line but threw a forward pass.


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