Eight-try Lions romp home
The Emirates Lions showed shades of the form that took them to the 2016 Vodacom Super Rugby final, as they romped to an eight-try 55-36 victory over the Waratahs in Johannesburg on Saturday.
In a frenzied game where defence was often an after-thought, the Ellis Park crowd were treated to no less than 91 points, 13 tries and three yellow cards in a game which while not technically superior to others on the weekend, certainly was entertaining for those who came to watch.
Midfielder Rohan Janse van Rensburg – who chose to play the match after his mother passed away earlier in the week – scored a brace for the second time in two weeks as the Lions continued their 100 percent record in the competition.
Janse van Rensburg’s second try underlined why he is rated so highly and why if he continues this form it will be almost impossible for Springbok coach Allister Coetzee to ignore him like he did last year.
A power run, stepping through two would-be tackles, Janse van Rensburg made a telling break, using Jaco Kriel on his wing to take it further before receiving the ball to finish the move and at the time deliver the killer blow to put the game beyond doubt.
This video is not available in your region
Before that the Waratahs kept in touch by scoring tries that at times looked too soft, and much will be said about those in the defensive reviews in the week to come.
It is hard to be critical when a team puts mere 50 points on the board, but when there are 44 missed tackles in a game – 15 by the side that wins, it tells a story that coaches will harp on about long into the week.
And while this game was a running festival – 1 084 running metres in a match is ludicrous - it was interesting that the Lions turned to an Australian nightmare to initially get dominance in the game – using the rolling maul for three of their tries as the Waratahs failed to deal with the age-old tactic.
After all the talk of spreading the ball wide, it was good to see a basic of the game being used so well to get points on the board, and no doubt while it may have disappeared a bit during the 2016 campaign, we are likely to see it used a lot more this year.
The opening two tries came from this tactic – both scored at the back of the rolling maul as the Lions pumped penalties into the corners – with Warren Whiteley and Ruan Ackermann coming up with the ball in the end.
Ackermann in particular had his second strong game in a row, while the confidence displayed by this Lions team means they will be a tough nut to crack at home this season, and the momentum they build will be their biggest ally this year.
However, the defensive woes were concerning, as the Waratahs levelled the scored twice early on shortly after the Lions scored, before their own disciplinary issues eventually cost them with Reece Robinson and Sekope Kepu both visiting the sin bin in the first half as the Lions surged to a 33-24 lead at the break.
In that period the Lions scrum grew in stature and pushed the Waratahs off the ball several times, contributing not only to Ross Cronje’s pick up and dart for a try in his 50th game, but to the general dominance all round.
Coach Johan Ackermann will also lament soft moments in the second half where the team went off the boil, allowing the Waratahs to make metres upfield on attack and reel in some of the scoreline, but with tries being scored when the Lions looked intent on heading upfield, there was never really a sense of panic in the side.
Janse van Rensburg’s brace and the performance of the pack apart, there was an important injection when the substitutes came on in the second half, which took the game beyond the half century mark and allowed the celebrations to begin.
Israel Folau, so smothered throughout the game, had the final say with a beautiful in and out to score the Waratahs’ fifth try, but it won’t be remembered on a night where the Lions roared louder than ever, and while not at their best, still had enough firepower to both entertain, win and show glimpses they are on their way back to their best.
Emirates Lions – tries: Warren Whiteley, Ruan Ackermann, Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2), Andries Coetzee, Ross Cronje, Courtnal Skosan, Malcolm Marx. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (6). Drop Goal: Jantjies.
NSW Waratahs – tries: Rob Horne, Michael Hooper, Bryce Hegarty, David McDuling, Israel Folau. Conversions: Reece Robinson (4). Penalties: Robinson (1)