Tiaan Swanepoel and Wandisile Simelane combined for the Lions’ clinching try. (Gallo Images)
- The Lions’ win over the Sharks at the weekend was notable for how they capitalised on limited scoring opportunities.
- Fullback Tiaan Swanepoel’s try was indicative of this, illustrating that the Lions’ focus on making sure they identify game-breaking moments is bearing fruit.
- Coach Ivan van Rooyen and skipper Elton Jantjies both praised the team for its incisiveness and versatility.
While there can be little doubt that the Lions exerted control throughout their fine 27-12 victory over the Sharks at the weekend, fullback Tiaan Swanepoel’s clinching try stood out for a specific reason.
In the build-up to the game, captain Elton Jantjies mentioned how the team’s shorter, more intense training sessions on a Thursday before a match are designed to translate into a greater awareness of making full use of one’s opportunities when the pressure is on.
“You sometimes get one chance and you have to use it, because you don’t get a lot of them during a game,” he said at the time.
In the 73rd minute, following three iffy phases, replacement scrumhalf Morne van den Berg recycled quickly to Jantjies, who threw a brilliant cut-out pass to Wandisile Simelane.
Storming towards the gifted outside centre was Springbok winger S’bu Nkosi, who had been rampant on defence all night.
But Simelane brilliantly evaded him and then stepped inside Sharks fullback Manie Libbok and skipper Lukhanyo Am to go on the run that saw Swanepoel cross the whitewash.
Given the nature of the match, where try-scoring opportunities were relatively far and few between, that incisive passage of play exemplified the Lions’ focus on game-breaking moments as alluded to by Jantjies.
It’s little wonder he was thrilled afterwards.
“It’s nice to see things that we’ve been working on, coming off,” said Jantjies.
“Cash (head coach Ivan van Rooyen) probably had us doing 50 reps for one simple try. For that to come off just shows how the boys are implementing the things that we’re planning.
“The guys are really working hard on attack and defence. It’s not easy. If you want to be championship sides, you have to be willing to work harder than the opposition and take your opportunities.”
Perhaps even more satisfying for the Lions was the overall manner in which this victory was achieved.
Sumptuous attacking rugby was confined to Simelane’s moment of brilliance as the men from Ellis Park showed a tougher side to their game by keeping things tighter.
It was partly down to the accomplished opposition they were facing, but it’s also a good sign for a future in Europe in the PRO16.
“To be honest, it’s really difficult to play a big, expansive game against a team like the Sharks,” said Van Rooyen.
“They have exceptional outside backs that make good reads and put you under a lot of pressure. I can’t say it’s the DNA going forward, but they really handled the pressure on attack well.
“If you look at the Sharks’ defence across the board, they’re not going to concede a lot of tries. I was just so chuffed with the patience we showed.”
He agreed with Jantjies’ view that his charges are sensing vital moments and capitalising on them.
“We really executed the one or two chances we did have well to put the Sharks under pressure,” said Van Rooyen.
“Defensively I was also very proud of the guys. They really put their hand up.”