Last-gasp penalty enables Lions to pip Sharks in thriller

Entertainment was again to the fore and rugby was once again the winner in the Kick Off 2021 series as the Emirates Lions pipped the Cell C Sharks 43-40 in a pulsating game at Emirates Airlines Airlines Park in Johannesburg on Saturday evening.

The scoreline and the fact there were 12 tries scored in the game, with six from each team, should be an indication that it was not 80 minutes that the respective defence coaches will be happy with but otherwise it was a match that had everything.

That included a bit of drama at the end, with referee Rasta Rashivhenge blowing the final whistle with the scores level at 40-all before he was informed that there were still seven seconds left on the clock.

That meant while the players were already shaking hands they were informed they had to play on, with the Lions being awarded a put in at a scrum in a defensive position.

If there was anything riding on the game that would have caused controversy as it wouldn’t have been easy for the Sharks to adjust to the last-minute defensive demands after thinking the game was over.

But these preparation fixtures are not being played for a trophy and there are no log points up for grabs so it didn’t matter at the end of a game where both coaches will feel they got plenty from the exercise.

If anything the result should have been more important for the Lions, given that their selection more closely resembled their likely regular first-choice lineup than what was a Sharks team that had a distinctly more experimental look to it.

Lions coach Cash van Rooyen said in the television interview before kick-off that process and winning carried equal importance, while Sharks coach Sean Everitt summed up his team’s goal by prioritising process.

A NIGHT THAT SHOWCASED COUNTER-ATTACKING POTENTIAL

Whatever the case, it was a night that showcased the attacking skills of both teams, and also sent out the message that it is not only New Zealand teams that can be good at counter-attacking.

That was an aspect that was very much to the fore for both teams, particularly in a first half where three tries were scored off attacks from turn-over ball that started in deep defensive positions.

The first of those was scored by the Sharks, who responded to an early try completed by Lions newcomer Ngia Selengbe by launching an attack right near their own line that was sparked by a brilliant over the top ball from Lukhanyo Am that sent first Yaw Penxe and then debutant centre Rynhard Jonker free down the left touchline.

It was an excellent rolling kick to the corner from the youngster that set up the try for Aphelele Fassi.

The Lions though were in one of those “anything you can do we can do better moods”. When the Sharks lost the ball inside the Lions 22 when they looked to be building for a try themselves it was centre Wandesile Simelane that saw the space to play to and fullback Swanepoel ran 40 metres down the left flank to score.

That put the Lions up 12-7 and it became 19-7 after 21 minutes as Simelane produced another break deep inside his own half off turn-over ball.

There was good linking play from Elton Jantjies and and also No 8 Francke Horne as flanker Vincent Tshituka was sent in for the try.

Talking of Horne and Tshituka, the Lions loose-forwards were outstanding and played a big role in their team’s win.

There were perhaps too many turn-overs in the game for it to be really remembered as a high-quality classic, although having said that many of those turn-overs were because of excellent work on the ground from both teams.

Certainly, although there were handling errors, the skill levels when it came to handling and keeping the play going were generally good, as they have been in most Kick Off games.

LIONS WELL AHEAD AT THE BREAK

Although Werner Kok scored a try that came from a wicked bounce in goal off a perfectly flighted cross kick from Sharks starting flyhalf Boeta Chamberlain, it was the Lions who ended the first half in the pound seats as Courtnall Skosan was put over by a long pass from Jantjies as the hosts capitalised on a fragmented Sharks defence off a loose scrum.

The Lions led 26-14 at the break but the Sharks were the stronger team at the start of the second half.

Dylan Richardson came on in the first half at hooker after Dan Jooste was helped from the field, and although he battled to adjust in the early scrums, where the Sharks also lost John-Hubert Meyer to injury, he settled more as the game progressed and showed up strongly, as he always does in general play.

It was Richardson who drove over to score the try that cut the deficit to five points with Chamberlain’s conversion after Lions prop Carlu Sadie had been carded for repeat infringements in the Lions’ prolonged defence of their line.

But Richardson was then involved in an embarrassing mistake as the Sharks overthrew to Lions hooker Jan-Henning Campher at a lineout on their line to present a gift score to the hosts that propelled them back into a 12 point lead (33-21 after 51 minutes).

Richardson made up for his part in that mistake, if there was, by using his body strength to drive over for an impressive try, only for the Sharks to present the Lions with another gift.

This time it was Curwin Bosch, on as a replacement, who made the mistake, as his cross kick near his own line went straight into the hands of Simelane, who went over untouched to make it 40-28 with 12 minutes to go.

MCHUNU SHINES AS HE SPARKS THE FIGHTBACK

That was the time though to cue the Sharks’ emerging talent that is their young loosehead prop Nthuthuko Mchunu.

The former Maritzburg College No 8 came on earlier this week, and was presented with a scrumming lesson by Springbok veteran Jannie du Plessis in one of his early scrums but generally stood up strongly against the former Sharks stalwart in the set piece.

It was as a ball carrier though that he most impressively made his mark, driving over for the try that brought the Sharks back into range before showing an awesome show of pace and strength as he powered through from 30 metres out to score a spectacular try that levelled the scores.

It would have been fair if the scores had ended at 40-all, but when the Lions were presented with a kickable penalty four minutes after the hooter, they did the right thing by winning it with the first penalty kicked at the posts in the game.

SCORERS

Emirates Lions 43 – Tries: Ngia Selengbe, Tiaan Swanepoel, Vincent Tshituka, Courtnall Skosan, Jan-Henning Campher, Wandesile Simelane; Conversions: Elton Jantjies 4 and Tiaan Swanepoel; Penalty: Tiaan Swanepoel.

Cell C Sharks 40 – Tries: Aphelele Fassi, Werner Kok, Dylan Richardson 2 and Nthuthuko Mcunu 2 ; Conversions: Boeta Chamberlain 3 and Curwin Bosch.

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