Tears of joy as Lions win
Tears of joy flowed at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg on Saturday as the Lions came back from 10 points down to score only their second victory in seven months as they beat the Cheetahs 30-26.
It was the first significant victory this year for the team, who endured a winless Super 14 and have only beaten the Leopards this Currie Cup.
The star of the victory was none other than 19-year-old sensation Elton Jantjies, who showed the influence that Carlos Spencer has on his development by providing a seasoned performance of varied rugby, and certainly controlled the game with his boot as his coach would have wanted.
But for a while it seemed as if the Lions, after leading 13-9 at the break, had slipped into their old ways as they conceded 13 points to a determined Cheetah attack early in the second half and lost Renaldo Bothma to a yellow card.
Bothma’s yellow, ironically, for slapping the ball out of Tewis de Bruyn’s hand as he was about to feed a scrum, proved to be the telling moment where the Lions stood up and showed character.
Instead of leaking points like they have in the past, the Lions managed to go through the 10 minutes on defence without conceding a point, then turned the tide when back to 15 to storm back and score twice in the last 10 minutes to steal the game away.
Anyone who has any doubts as to how big a turnaround this is for the team, consider this: The Lions have no Springboks out and the Cheetahs have lost a handful from the teams that met in the final round of the Super 14, where the Cheetahs romped home 59-10 in Welkom.
The significance of John Mitchell’s belief in the youth of the team, and their more structured approach has finally paid off, and finally Lions fans across the country have something to believe in again.
The Lions were unlucky twice in the first half, coming close but not finishing off. Jantjies was over the line but had the ball ripped away from him by Robert Ebersohn in a last-gasp attempt that stopped the try.
But while Louis Strydom kept his side ahead with three penalties to Jantjies’s two, it was the Lions flyhalf who seized the moment on attack to send his side into the half-time break in the lead. A perfectly aimed banana kick -- once the sole trademark of Spencer -- went over the defensive line and bounced perfectly for Deon van Rensburg to score the half’s only try.
The Cheetahs took control of both territory and possession in the early second half, and were almost immediately rewarded when Ashley Johnson powered his way over the line from a five-metre scrum that corkscrewed and opened up the line to him.
Strydom added another penalty before Bothma was marched to the sideline. Jantjies replied with a penalty but it was the Cheetahs who looked like they had stolen the victory when Cobus Kaldo went over after the Lions defence opened up too easily.
With five minutes to go the Lions were probing and found some space on the blindside, where fellow teenager Jaco Taute delivered the final pass to Jantjies to score in the corner.
The flyhalf made no mistake with the touchline conversion and from the kickoff the Lions showed they can score from anywhere as they carved up the Cheetah midfield to put Michael Killian away.
Killian chipped but both he and two Cheetah defenders missed the bounce, only for replacement winger Jannie Boshoff to cap his comeback by scoring in the corner.
Jantjies grabbed another touchline conversion to keep up his 100 per cent record, and the Lions held out for the final two minutes to ensure that the day will go down in the team’s history as one where they stood up and were counted.
Xerox Lions – tries: Deon van Rensburg, Elton Jantjies, Jannie Boshoff. Conversions: Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (3).
Vodacom Cheetahs – tries: Ashley Johnson, Cobus Kaldo. Conversions: Louis Strydom (1), Meyer Bosman (1). Penalties: Strydom (4).