The Lions produced another upset in a weekend of upsets when they beat the defending champion Crusaders 9-3 in a Super 14 Round Three match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday. After being written off pre-season, the Lions proved everybody wrong when they out-gutsed and out-battled a dangerous Crusaders team in a battle royal that saw no player cross the line.
The Lions absorbed endless Crusaders attacks, but saw them all off eventually coming out victorious with three penalties by Louis Strydom to the lone penalty goal by Stephen Brett.
The victory will go down as a testament not only to the heart with which the Lions played, but also the immense strides they have taken in their set pieces as well as their discipline on defense.
Quite simply, the Lions pack were brilliant.
They kickstarted this absorbing match with the front-rankers of Brian Mujati, Willie Wepener and Heinke van der Merwe proving too much for the likes of Ben Franks and Campbell Johnstone to live with.
Mujati in particular was powerful beyond all expectation.
After an initial wave of attacks that saw Rua Tipoki capitalizing on an initially brittle Lions midfield, punching hole after hole, the Lions managed to settle things down by means of the efforts of their pack.
The Crusaders will rue not scoring in that early exchange, but, although the Lions appeared nervous on their defense, there was always a Louis Ludik or Jaque Fourie to make that vital last-ditch tackle.
The Lions then got to work in the scrum.
Mujati was simply too much for Franks. The early dominance was so extreme that it actually proved unsustainable and the Crusaders would actually capitalize on that lack of stability as the game went on.
Between scrums, the Lions managed to retain territorial dominance via the aerial exploits of Anton van Zyl and Cobus Grobelaar, who were both magnificent and completely outplayed their Christchurch counterparts.
The Lions however were not able to utilize this possession as their backline was strangely lateral, and the combination of Jaco Pretorius and Jaque Fourie will need to be allowed time to settle down.
Because of this anomale in the Lions game, their rucking out wide struggled and they actually had few chances to cross the line during the game.
Their scrumming was rewarded by a penalty midway through the first half but the Crusaders immediately equalized when Mujati awkwardly got his binding horribly wrong inside his half.
The Crusaders came out of the interval firing.
They camped on the Lions tryline, but the home side displayed intense courage and concentration to keep their tryline, as well as their goalposts untainted by the visiting side in the second half.
Slowly the Lions gained control of the second half.
Grobelaar played with accuracy and fierce determination both at the lineout and in the loose whilst Ernst Joubert by sheer will broke the defensive line on many occasion. Rookie number eight Willem Alberts was also devastating on attack, and, whilst, no try was scored, their penetration was vital in applying the necessary pressure upon the champions.
The Lions' fervour was rewarded with two penalties in the middle period of the second half, with the Crusaders infringing offsides and collapsing a maul.
This was to be the only scores of the half, and that would be enough for the home side to secure a famous victory.
Finally, the Crusaders had no answer to the continued persistence of a Lions side that has clearly been invigorated by a newfound self-belief.
The Lions really had no real chance for a try bar a Jaco Pretorius dart for the corner after a deft chip and chase by the courageous Louis Strydom that saw Wylie Human fail to cut inside and instead shuffle out into touch.
The Crusaders launched various attacks themselves to rectify the deficit but unforced error and hardened defense proved too much for even the likes of form players like Tipoki and Stephen Brett.
Time ran out and the Lions had beaten the odds and defeated the Super rugby powerhouse.
Man of the Match: Rua Tipoki was very influential early on; Mujati and Heinke van der Merwe are proving to be fine props, whilst Cobus Grobelaar is everything a lock should be, but ultimately our Man of the Match is the valiant Ernst Joubert. He has an intuition for space that is such a valuable trait in a loose forward, whilst his presence at the breakdown was always telling.
For the Lions:
Pens: Strydom 3
For the Crusaders:
Lions: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Jaque Fourie, 11 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 10 Louis Strydom, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Ernst Joubert, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Cobus Grobler, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Bertus Smit, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Jacques Cronjé, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Wylie Human, 22 Earl Rose
Crusaders: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Rua Tipoki, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Johnny Leo'o, 6 Kieran Read, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn (captain), 1 Ben Franks
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett/Ben May, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Jake Paringatai, 20 Kevin Senio, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Brent Ward
Referee: Brett Bowden (Australia)
Touch judges: Paul Marks (Australia), Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)