The Lions ended their Australian tour with a 6-13 victory over the Brumbies at GIO Stadium in Canberra and cement their place at the top of the South African group standings.
Last season’s runners-up, scoreless at the break for the first time since 2014, scored 13 second-half points, grinding out a tough win for Johan Ackermann’s men.
This was a tight, tense match that was stoked into life after Kwagga Smith’s sensational burst of pace saw the sevens specialist run 80 metres to give the Lions a 3-10 lead after 55 minutes.
The Brumbies, twice through Joe Powell, came close to finding the winning score, but their handling and discipline, let them down.
Wharenui Hawera kicked a 19th- and a 61st-minute penalty, but that was all that separated the two teams.
This was not a classic by any means, far from it. This was the lowest combined points total between the two franchises in Super Rugby.
The former two-time champions have now equalled their 2011 four-game losing stretch. They are the best Australian team and that is saying a lot.
For all the territory and possession they enjoyed, they could not cross the whitewash – for the second time in their last two matches.
Not even the bye week could sort out a struggling attack.
Remember, this was once the team of Andrew Walker, Joe Roff, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock and co.
This was the team of Rod McQueen and Eddie Jones, who changed the way rugby was played. This was once a great team.
Jones’ Brumbies revolutionalised back-row play, innovating the link between forwards and backs as they made their way to five Super Rugby finals in eight years between 1997 and 2004.
The Aussies enjoyed 62 percent possession and 70 percent territory as they dominated the first half.
It was reduced, just, to 54 percent possession and 51 percent territory in the end.
Let’s not forget the Lions role in this. They were dogged and determined, repelling wave after wave of attacks, defending like crazed devils.
Warren Whiteley was immense, leading his men to victory with a fine performance at No 8.
His fellow loose forwards, Ruan Ackermann and try-scorer Smith, were colossal at the breakdown.
The Blitzbok scored the only try of the match, late in the third quarter after collecting Lionel Mapoe’s pass.
He raced 80 metres, as the Lions went coast-to-coast, to give his team a seven-point 3-10 lead.
Minutes earlier, Elton Jantjies had levelled the scores at 3-all with a penalty.
The Brumbies were not without their chances; twice, Powell broke inside the Lions’ 22, but each time, the move was halted by the stern defence by the Joburg men.
Handling errors and ill-discipline did not help the home team, but they only have themselves to blame for the defeat.
Hawera reduced the deficit to four points with 19 minutes left, but it was false hope.
Francois Mostert was a pillar of strength in the lineout and the loose. Courtnall Skosan was excellent in his scramble defence and combined with his skipper to turn over a crucial ball on their goal-line.
The Lions were forced to make almost double a number of tackles as their hosts, 120 to 70, yet finished stronger, soaking up everything the ACT side could throw at them.
Ackermann’s team, after the siren, managed to kick a last-play penalty, through Andries Coetzee, to end their tour with three wins from three.
The Brumbies … well, there is nothing else to say.
Final score: Brumbies 6 (3) Lions 13 (0)
Pen – Hawera (2)
Tries – Smith
Pen – Jantjies, Coetzee
Con – Jantjies
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 1: Nick Briant
Assistant Ref 2: Jordan Way
TMO: Ian Smith
15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter (captain), 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Ben Hyne, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Tom Banks
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Anthony Volmink