Lions down Russia in wet
The MTN Lions got their Lions Challenge off to a positive start, whipping the touring Russian national team 51-13 at a soaking wet Ellis Park Saturday night.
As an opening hit-out it would have satisfied the Lions coaching staff, especially as they had a young team on the park and it was their first time in a competitive game.
And there were plenty of positives, including discipline and the ability to stand up to a tough and uncompromising Russian outfit, who paid the price for a one-dimensional game plan and horrific discipline in the game.
The Lions dominated most aspects of the game, and destroyed the Russians in the scrum – earning themselves two penalty tries in the process – while the visitors were always on the wrong side of referee Lourens van der Merwe – and for good reason as they continually harboured offside, went off their feet or played the ball with hands in the ruck and made some reckless tackles.
It was no surprise that Van der Merwe’s patience wore out, and two yellow cards and a red were handed out before the final whistle to underline the key aspect the visitors will have to work on in future.
The learning curve for the visitors and their coach Kingsley Jones is a steep one, especially after they lost 14-0 to the University of Johannesburg in midweek action.
But that didn’t take away from the Lions performance, where performances by Franco Mostert, Stokkies Hanekom, Warwick Tecklenburg and Willie Britz all stood out in the loose as they set the platform in the first half, before opening the taps in the second to run up the half century.
After a slow start, where Lionel Cronje’s opening two penalties got the scoreboard rolling, the Lions exploited some poor tackling in the backline as Andries Coetzee started a counter attack, and watched as Deon Helberg flat-footed the defence to score the opening try.
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The Russians may not have had much more than a pick and go strategy up front, but they were a troublesome lot, the type of team that can make you look poor with their gritty play and for most of the first half the Lions struggled to break through.
But the tipping point came on halftime, as the Lions scrum destroyed their opposition, prompting the ref to go to his pocket after awarding a penalty try.
At 20-3 when the teams’ changed sides, it was set up for a perfect second half, with the Russians grabbing back another penalty before their scrum paid the price for a second time, and lost their second player to the bin as Van der Merwe awarded the second penalty try.
From there on it was only a guess as to how big the score would be, although the Russians did show one good move to dot down themselves when Alexsy Makovetsky grubbered a ball through and followed up as it evaded Lions hands to get a hand to the ball before the defence for the visitors’ only try.
But apart from that brief blip, the Lions continued their dominance, with Hendrik Roodt, Tecklenburg, Marnitz Boshoff and finally Ruan Nel dotting down in the final quarter to ensure the Lions may be gone from Vodacom Super Rugby, but with this enterprise and form, won’t be easily forgotten.
Bigger challenges await when they face the Cheetahs next weekend and the Bulls the weekend afterwards, before they take on the Southern Kings in their grudge match on February 9.
MTN Lions – tries: Penalty try (2), Deon Helberg, Hendrik Roodt, Warwick Tecklenburg, Marnitz Boshoff, Ruan Nel. Conversions: Lionel Cronje (4), Boshoff (1). Penalties: Cronje (2)
Russia – try: Alexsy Makovetsky. Conversion: Igor Klyuchnikov. Penalties: Klyuchnikov.