Elton Jantjies scored a try on the final whistle to give his Emirates Lions side a bonus-point 24-15 victory over the Western Force in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Perth on Saturday.
The bonus point was a massive boost for the Johannesburg side after a frustrating game against a side that dragged the Lions down to their level, and very nearly succeeded in their task of disrupting the leading South African side.
In a scrappy game where neither side was at their best on attack, the Force were exceptional on defence, frustrating the Lions’ attack and stopping their normal free-flowing rugby by cutting off the space they could launch from.
On the back of a solid defensive effort, Dave Wessels’ side played the only way they knew how, and almost got the victory despite not threatening the Lions’ tryline once in the game.
In contrast, the Lions will not be happy with their own attacking effort, as they lacked the nuance to unlock the Force defence, and despite at times threatening to explode, were unable to give themselves a cushion to feel comfortable.
The Force lived from scraps for most of the game, but looked good when they got their attack together. Still, they never looked like scoring a try and relied on the boot of Ian Prior to keep them in touch with the Lions side on the scoreboard while picking off the penalties.
The Lions often turned down the points on offer to look for tries, and apart from two good first-half efforts, were nowhere near the standard they need to be if they are hoping to win the competition.
But still, in the last two weeks the Lions have faced sides that dragged them down to their level, and came out unscathed with two victories for their efforts. With Super Rugby often a marathon rather than a sprint, this may well do them more good than harm in the long run.
It was surprising to see that in the cold light of day the Lions made more tackles in the scrappy arm-wrestle, with Franco Mostert and Ruan Ackermann contributing 14 tackles apiece as the Lions clawed their way to victory.
Both sides’ defensive efforts far outweighed their attacking prowess on the night, but the Lions will still feel more aggrieved as they threatened more and will be more disappointed with their effort.
In all the game weaved between moments of brilliance, and for any Lions fan who knows what they can produce, it was far too little on a night where they never really got into their groove.
They did open the scoring early in the first half after dominating the opening exchanges after a number of salvos at the line, when Jantjies popped the perfect pass to a flying Lionel Mapoe to surge over to score.
Prior added two penalties to bring his side within one point by the half-hour mark, but shortly afterwards it was quick thinking and superb quick hands by the Lions which sent the ball from a collapsed maul through Jantjies, Malcolm Marx and Mapoe’s hands to Courtnal Skosan, who went in at the corner to score.
Two more penalties brought the Force within touching distance before Jantjies sunk one of his own, leaving the sides going into the last 30 minutes with a five-point difference.
Prior added another penalty to make it a two-point game in the 65th minute, with the Force threatening to steal the game away.
The Lions’ defence held firm though and it was a bold move when the Lions won a penalty in front of the posts on fulltime to not go for the points, and rather ask for the scrum. Jantjies took the responsibility on his own shoulders to make sure of the bonus point and despite the arm-wrestle, give the Lions a lot to smile about as they left Perth for possibly the last time.
Western Force – Penalties: Ian Prior (5).
Emirates Lions – Tries: Courtnal Skosan, Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies; Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalty: Jantjies