The Lions ended their decade-long wait for a victory against the Western Force with a workman-like performance for a 15-24 win at nib Stadium in Perth.
This was the South African’s sixth consecutive win, first against their hosts since 2007 and, the first time they have won three consecutive games in Australia since Super Rugby’s inception.
This was another drab affair, littered with handling mistakes and penalties at the set piece and breakdown.
The Force have now lost six matches by nine or less this season as the Lions scored three tries without reply; Elton Jantjies supplying the final dagger after the hooter, to ensure a try-differential bonus-point.
Ian Prior kept his team in the hunt with five penalties but Lionel Mapoe and Courtnall Skosan’s first half tries and the boot of Springbok flyhalf, kept the visitors ahead as Johan Ackermann’s men ground out the win.
The Lions opened the scoring with a seventh-minute try by Mapoe. The visitors set up a driving maul and after four phases, Faf de Klerk sent the ball wide, Jantjies linked with a support runner, ran across the gain-line and put the centre away.
Prior punished the visitors with two penalties to reduce the gap to a single point after 25 minutes.
With four minutes remaining in the first half, the only true bit of excellence in this game came from the Lions.
The visitors attacked the gain line and after some beautiful handling, Skosan, taking a pass from Mapoe, crashed over in the corner.
Jantjies, from the sideline, curled his conversion between the poles as the Lions extended their lead to eight. as the teams went into the break.
That would be the last of the entertainment as the teams slogged out the next 40 minutes.
Prior kicked his third penalty, moments later, to reduce the deficit to five points a minute before the break.
Both kickers traded penalties soon after halftime to make it 12-17 going into the final quarter. The Force, however, were growing in confidence and started to throw the ball around, attacking the wide channels.
But, their handling lets them down as their profligacy, with the ball in hand, ultimately cost them the game.
Ackermann’s team are one of the great entertainers in the tournament but, they lost their mojo on the Australian west coast.
Too often, in good attacking position, they lost the ball forward or, were penalised at the ruck. This, coupled with Prior’s boot, kept the Aussies within touching distance of their opponents.
The scrumhalf added his fifth penalty on 67 minutes to bring his team back to 15-17 as the clock ticked down.
They had several opportunities to overtake the tourists but squandered them. The Lions found themselves inside their hosts’ 22 with seconds remaining.
They won a penalty after being camped on the Force’s try-line.
Warren Whiteley opted for a scrum when the safe option was to kick the ball dead and take the four points.
The Lions got the shove on contact, and Jantjies, taking an angled run to the open side, ghosted between two defenders and claimed the bonus-point.
Final score: Western Force 15 (9) Lions 24 (14)
Pen – Prior (5)
Tries – Mapoe, Skosan, Jantjies
Pen – Jantjies
Con – Jantjies (3)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Ref 2: Amy Perrett
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore
15 Marcel Brache, 14 James Verity-Amm, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Luke Burton, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Lewis Carmichael, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Onehunga Havilli, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Peter Grant.
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink