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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Lions win Sharks thriller

Springbok Lionel Mapoe scored a brace of tries as his Emirates Lions side gave their new head coach Swys de Bruin his first Vodacom Super Rugby victory, winning 26-19 over a tough Cell C Sharks side at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

Mapoe’s name highlighted a scoresheet of a pulsating, physical and enthralling game that was only decided in the last minute, as both sides showed that they will be great contenders for the coming season with an exceptional brand of attacking rugby.

The game was an advert for all that is great about South African rugby. Tough forward play, good defence and some scintillating attacking play.

And while the Lions fans will claim they will be the favourites to win the conference title this year, on the strength of this display they will have a good argument, althought the Sharks aren’t far behind.

All the pre-season fears for both sides seem to be unfounded, and while the Sharks may have lost, they certainly are a side that will trouble many teams this year.

In the likes of Ruan Botha, Phillip van der Walt, Cameron Wright and Lukhanyo Am they have some exceptional footballers, while Robert du Preez was their standout player of the night. Out wide in S’bu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi they have strike power that will be the envy of many a side.

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But their downfall on the night was partly their scrums, which suffered under the might of the Lions challenge, with 50th cap hero Jacques van Rooyen excelling and Ruan Dreyer showing that he is still a force to be reckoned with.

Marvin Orie was an unsung hero in the loose, while Kwagga Smith put in another exceptional performance at flank.

In so many of these games, the team that took their chances proved the cliché right, and on the night the Lions were smiling as they won a hard-fought victory against a Sharks team that clearly were here to play.

It was Du Preez who immediately starred for his new team as he opened the scoring early on in the 8th minute, turning applied Sharks pressure into points as he burst through Elton Jantjies’ tackle on the line to score a try that sparked some early Sharks celebrations.

But the Lions certainly weren’t going to lie down and simply give away the points, and with the forward battle gruesome in its physicality they were certainly getting their own big hits in. And with their scrum dominating at key moments in the game, they started applying pressure of their own to the Sharks.

That pressure paid off big time when from a five metre lineout in the 18th minute Malcolm Marx barged his way forward to keep the opposition busy, before Mapoe ran an excellent straight line to take Jantjies pass and run in for the try with his trademark rooster celebration.

But the moment that will have Lions fans salivating over their PVR replays was just five minutes later when debutant Aphiwe Dyantyi was given the ball on attack in space and pinned his ears back, making metres before grubbering the ball forward with his left foot to beat Robert du Preez on the cover defence and collect with his right hand to score a breathtaking try.

Dyantyi may give a few Australian and New Zealand commentators nightmares with the pronounciation of his name, but he certainly will give more defences nightmares if he carries on in this vein. His opening performance in Super Rugby was one of the best in years and Swys de Bruin should be praised for letting the youngster loose.

With the Lions 14-7 up at halftime the Sharks had to make the first impression in the second half and they did that just two minutes in, as Du Preez broke free for a monster run up the midfield, and Wright had enough vision to send the ball right to S’bu Nkosi who went in at the corner.

The missed conversion meant the Lions still had a two-point advantage which continued when Du Preez missed a penalty in the 50th minute. And things didn’t look good for the Sharks when Mapoe scored his second – this time from a beautiful break upfield by Andries Coetzee, with the midfielder easing through the fractured defence to grab his brace.

But while Coetzee was the hero one minute, he turned villain from the kickoff as he dropped an easy kick to give the Sharks an attacking advantage five metres out. From the scrum Lukhanyo Am came close, followed by a beautiful long pass to Makazole Mapimpi out wide, with the winger walking in untouched for the try.

The conversion left the sides two points apart again. In a game where heroes were aplenty on both sides, it was Kwagga Smith who underlined his cult figure status with a massive leg drive close to the line, to evade Akker van der Merwe and roll over to score, and while Jantjies couldn’t convert, it gave the Lions a crucial seven-point advantage with 20 to go.

There were missed moments aplenty in the last 20 as Jantjies twice missed penalties to stretch their advantage and Kobus van Wyk lost the ball on the line in a promising attack for the Sharks.


Emirates Lions - tries: Lionel Mapoe (2), Aphiwe Dyantyi, Kwagga Smith. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3)

Cell C Sharks - tries: Robert du Preez, S’bu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Du Preez (2)


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