Super Rugby Quarterfinal Review
Saturday 21st July
Lions 40 vs Jaguares 23
Date: Saturday, July 21
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 15:05 local (14:05 BST, 13:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Egon Seconds
TMO: Marius Jonker
There was a certain inevitability about the Lions game at Ellis Park. Despite conceding an early 6-0 lead to the Jaguares, through penalties in the 3rd and 5th minutes, the Lions stepped into playoff mode and struck back with a very pretty try by Ruan Combrinck in the 7th minute.
Another in the 14th, and they were in full control of the game.
When Malcolm Marx intercepted and scored in the 26th it looked as if the Lions would cruise to a comfortable win.
The Jaguares did fight back with two tries in the 41st and 47th minute, at a time when the Lions were looking to open the game up and play some of the high-risk high-reward stuff that works so well against lesser teams, but it was to no avail as the Lions had a rethink of their strategy, and simply clamped down on their hold on the game.
The Jaguares played the game everyone expected from them, plenty of movement as they carried the ball 140 times for 870 meters, but they ran into a Lions’ defence that was working better than at any time in the regular season. Well organised and focussed, with good line-speed and much better cover defence work by the pendulum of the wings and fullback, the Lions made 191 tackles, missing just 24.
The forwards, in particular, were rock solid as Franco Mostert lead the way with 24 tackles, with Kwagga Smith making 22, Marvin Orie 18, with Warren Whiteley, Ruan Dreyer, and Malcolm Marx all contributing 14 apiece. At the back Harold Vorster made 14 and Lionel Mapoe 12 as they contributed to stopping the Jaguares in their tracks. Perhaps the worst stats belong to Aphiwe Dyantyi, who made six tackles, but missed three.
The Jaguares were forced into doing a lot of their ball-in-hand work going sideways, running criss-cross on the field as they tried to find a weak spot in the wall of red jerseys. They might have carried the ball a whopping 140 times and made 840 meters with the ball in hand with their 54% of the possession, but an awful lot of their carries made no progress downfield. By my calculations, which are not corroborated by any of the statistical websites, close to 350 meters of Jaguares’ running was sideways or backwards, without so much as a meter downfield progress.
The Lions used a clever kicking game on occasion, turning the Jaguares and forcing them to scramble back on defence. The exquisite Jantjies’ chip kick for the corner that gave Ruan Combrinck their first try was an example of the very clever kicking. Dyantyi’s grubber for Vorster’s try was another that caused confusion, panic almost, at the Jaguares’ back.
The Lions kicked the ball 16 times, with 6 kicks by Jantjies and four by Ross Cronje. While Jantjies’ kicks were mostly accurate, some of Cronje’s box kicking left much to be desired. He has yet to find accuracy with the box kick, and at least three of his kicks were so far downfield as to give the Jaguares an easy catch, and time to think about the return.
Elton Jantjies has been much maligned in these pages, his fragility under pressure is a serious concern, but on Saturday he produced probably his best game of 2018 as he mostly dictated proceedings with a self-assured aplomb. There were still issues, though. During the Jaguares fightback in the early part of the second half he did not step up and grab hold of the game and try to change the flow or the tempo. He simply stopped taking the ball going forward, dropped back into that deep pocket he favours when the pressure mounts, and started taking the ball standing still, resulting in static passes to his midfield who had to receive the ball without any momentum or pace.
Towards the end of the second half he suddenly found his mojo again, and started to run onto the pass, and that is when he is at his very best.
I am not sure why he received the Man of the Match award, I do believe there were a couple of other more worthy contenders. Franco Mostert put in a massive game. He tackled like a machine, making 24 hits, he carried the ball six times, only Harold Vorster and Andries Coetzee (9) and Marnus Schoeman (8) beat that number. He won 3 lineouts, he also made 25 meters with the ball in hand. His cleanouts were monstrous, and his driving was muscular. It was a good day for the big lock.
Marnus Schoeman was direct and physical after he joined the fray, and the entire Lions front row, together, were the rock solid foundation on which this win was built. They scrummed the Jaguares into the ground.
The real stand-out player was Malcolm Marx, despite his youth easily the best hooker in world rugby at the moment. He was immense over the ball, winning 5 turnovers, he made 14 tackles, two of which were rated as dominant tackles, he carried the ball 5 times, making 61 meters, including that impressive intercept for his try. Even when it was evident that he was struggling with a painful shoulder, he still managed two turnovers before leaving the field in the 70th minute. His scrummaging was intimidating, his lineouts mostly impeccable, 11 good throws and just one wobbly one where an Argentinean hand got in the way.
Whilst Warren Whiteley is quite correct in saying that Marx cannot take all the credit as it requires a good tackle to set him up from the turnover opportunity, but it still takes a special talent to spot the moment and make the turnover. There are hundreds of loose-forwards that wish they had his ability.
The reality, I guess, is that this was a Lions’ team effort. For the first time in a very long time they were firing on most of their cylinders and were focussed and sharp.
The Jaguares did themselves no injustice, this was simply a bridge too far in their break-out season. If they can hold onto the lessons of 2018, they are going to be a real force in 2019.
The Lions displayed their hard-earned playoff experience, however, and did so impressively. The Waratahs will have to bring something really special if they want to win next weekend.
Tries: Combrinck, Vorster, Marx, Coetzee
Cons: Jantjies 4
Pens: Jantjies 3
Tries: Delguy, Matera
Cons: Sanchez 2
Pens: Sanchez 3
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Courtnall Skosan, 23 Howard Mnisi
Jaguares: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de le Fuente, 11 Matias Moroni, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lavanini, 21 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 22 Martin Landajo, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere