Lions hold on against Highlanders



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The Lions held on for a hard-earned 11-6 win over the Highlanders with a stuttering performance in their Super 14 Round Two match at Ellis Park on Saturday.

It was a wet weekend for rugby. It was cold in the north and wet in the south – except for Christchurch surprisingly, and the rugby, too, was largely miserable. It rained in Cape Town, Canberra, Pretoria, Durban and Johannesburg. Maybe it was the weather’s fault that the rugby was not great . Maybe that is why it was not a great match at Ellis Park Johannesburg where the Lions did everything to win by a long way except win by a long way.

Hannibal, the Carthaginian, was one of the greatest military commanders of all time. He gave Rome many a hiding, but his brother said to him – in Phoenician but recorded in Latin for our convenience – “You know how to win but you don’t know how to use your victory.” What he said was true, for eventually the Romans beat him.

The Lions against the Highlanders threatened to be Hannibals. They knew how to create try-scoring opportunities but in the end it seemed that the Highlanders, with so few chances, would beat them. They had five gilt-edged opportunities to score tries, well-fashioned tries, and did not do so. Their only try, the only try of the match, came from a mixture of Highland error and Human opportunism.

Wylie Human scored the only try of the match in the 18th minute. Near the half-way line the Highlanders went to their left where their wing Greg Zambach was isolated. Being isolated and confronted with Human he decided to chip. His left-footed chip was more of a putt – straight into the arms of Human who ran past him and fifty metres ahead scored the try that made the score 8-3.

Before that Louis Strydom had kicked a penalty when Josh Blackie went off-side and then Callum Bruce equalised when Human was penalised for using his hands wrongfully at a tackler.

Nothing much happened besides that. Strydom kicked for the Lions and Jimmy Cowan kicked for the Highlanders. The Lions scrummed well but the Highlanders did well in the line-outs. The Highlanders scrumming improved as the match went on and the Lions’ line-outs degenerated.

So much for the altitude bogey. The Highlanders from sea level Otago seemed to end stronger than the Lions of the Highveld.

After Human’s try the Lions carried on attacking. The Highlanders were hardly in the game. From a line-out the Lions swept left and Jaco Pretorius, across from the left wing was stopped near the line. The Lions made a penalty into a five-metre line-out but the Highlanders coped and moved them back till Human, no kicker he, tried a drop at goal. This was charged down and a few seconds later the Lions were in terrible trouble and forced to yield a five-metre scrum.

But they came back and were mauling a line-out when Hoani MacDonald collapsed it and was penalised. Strydom goaled to make it 11-3 at half-time after a half in which the Lions had had the lions’ share of possession – roughly 60% of it.

In the next 40 minutes there was just one score. Just one, and that a penalty by veteran Charlie Hore who came to flyhalf and made a huge difference to the tempo of the game. When he made the score 11-6 there were 11 minutes left. The Highlanders could have done the Roman turnover.

But there the Lions had chances to score. Right at the start of the half Willem Alberts broke from a scrum, Human ran with the ball and Cobus Grobbelaar was over but the television match official arrived that he had not got the ball down as Cowan clung to him.

The Lions attacked again from the five-metre scrum but big Zimbabwean prop Brian Mujati lost the ball.

The Lions attacked from a line-out from right to left but Louis Ludik was into touch. Later he was tackled out at the cornerflag with Jaque Fourie begging for an inside pass. They actually got over the line but threw a forward pass.


From a five-metre scrum Strydom dropped the ball and the Highlanders footed free. From a line-out the Lions mauled 18 metres to the Highlanders’ line where the maul fell down and they conceded the scrum by the law of “use it or lose it”. They had a three against one situation but the opted for a long skip pass and the Highlanders intercepted the inside pass. Rickie Januarie, on as a substitute, darted ahead and Jaco van Schalkwyk scooted to the line but the ball went astray.

There were chances to score.

Admittedly the Lions do not play in the wet all that much but skip passes and high, looped passes are not the best passes kin the wet. They may not be the best passes in the dry either, but the Lions had a lunatic and unproductive penchant for nullifying overlaps with long, slow passes when the simple expedient of passing to the man next to them would have worked wonders.

The Lions also had the advantage of an extra man in the second half when Lucky Mulipola was sent to the sin bin for a gross air tackle on Jaco Pretorius. He was lucky all right – lucky that it was not a red card.

The Highlander had their moments as when Jimmy Cowan broke through a line-out and big James Ryan galloped over the Highveld till little Jano Vermaak cut him down and the lock was penalised.

Hore had a splendid break which Matthew Saunders carried on but that, too, fizzled out.

In the last 15 minutes or so the Highlanders suddenly started playing faster and sharply with quick passing and straight running, but the Lions bulk beat them back. Even after the siren the Highlanders kept going running the ball up the field till eventually the ball was lost forward and the final whistle sounded.

Man of the Match: James Ryan, Josh Blackie and Jimmy Cowan did well for the Highlanders, as did Charlie Hore for the time he was on the field. Earl Rose also came on late, replacing Wylie Human. Rose went to fullback and did well with his long boot. Jano Vermaak, Jaco Pretorius and the loose forwards – Ernst Joubert, Willem Alberts and Cobus Grobbelaar – did really well for the Lions but our Man of the Match was young Heinke van der Merwe who scrummed with power, drove into the loose with power and determination, carried the ball forward and tackled with zest. He had a great day – and may have been glad that Carl Hayman was on long leave.

The scorers:

For the Lions:
Try: Human
Pens: Strydom 2

For the Highlanders:
Pens: Bruce, Hore

Yellow card: Lucky Mulipola (Highlanders, 52 – foul play, dangerous tackle)


Lions: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Wylie Human, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Jaco Pretorius, 10 Louis Strydom, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Ernst Joubert (c), 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Cobus Grobler, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Ettienne Reynecke, 17 Bertus Smit, 18 Gordon Gilfillan, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Enrico Januarie, 21 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 22 Earl Rose

Highlanders: 15 Craig Clare, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Jason Kawau, 11 Greg Zampach, 10 Callum Bruce, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Craig Newby, 7 Josh Blackie (c), 6 Hoani MacDonald, 5 James Ryan, 4 Filipo Levi, 3 Clarke Dermody, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Chris King
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Keith Cameron, 18 Ezra Taylor, 19 Alando Soakai, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Charlie Hore, 22 Willie Rickards

Referee: Paul Marks (Australia)
Touch judges: Brett Bowden (Australia), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)

 365 Digital

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