Late rally seals the deal for the home team
The Lions managed to edge the Rebels 37-32 in an eight-try Super Rugby feast in Johannesburg on Saturday.
In a match where defence was not always at a premium, the Lions dominated the first half-hour, the Rebels then took over for 40 minutes, before the Lions burst back into life in the final 10 minutes.
The home team raced into a 24-0 lead, before the Rebels scored 22 unanswered points. The visitors' comeback was briefly halted by a Lions penalty, before another 10 points saw the Rebels take the lead.
However, the Lions produced the late rally that saw them score 10 points to seal the win, despite the Rebels dominating the second half to the tune of 25-13.
There were a number of late changes to the Rebels line-up - Tim Davidson moved from flank to No.8, with Gareth Delve dropping to the bench, while Luke Jones came off the bench to start on the flank. Hugh Pyle also came off the bench to partner Cadeyrn Neville in the second row and Alister Campbell dropped to the bench.
It didn't seem to help them much.
The Lions got off to a delightful start, launching a counter attack from deep inside their half and taking the ball through the hands - with the entire backline involved, before Waylon Murray went over for the opening score. Elton Jantjies made it 7-0 with the conversion.
And before the 10-minute mark was up, flank Derick Minnie went over for his team's second try as the home team continued to throw the ball around with freedom against the porous Rebels defence. Jantjies made that 14-0.
That became 17-0 after 17 minutes, as Jantjies punished the Rebels for their repeated infringements at the breakdown.
When the Rebels eventually got their hands on the ball they showed their willingness to join into the fun or running wild, but their execution was not as clinical as that of the Lions and they coughed the ball up metres from the line. That happened on more than one occasion, even from a maul five metres out.
And it also didn't hep that Mark Gerrard failed to find touch with a penalty from just outside the 22.
At the same time Jantjies kept punishing the Rebels with a number of booming kicks that kept driving the visitors back towards their own 22.
With five minutes left in the half Minnie scored his team's third try, and his second, after the home team kept banging away at the Rebels' line - the referee repeatedly playing advantage for offside and other infringements. Despite a number of players getting 'white line fever' and wasting scoring chances, Minnie eventually found the hole. Jantjies' conversion made it 24-0.
The Rebels eventually managed to get on the board, right on the half-time hooter, as Ged Robinson was at the back of a maul which - despite being fractured by the Lions defenders - found its way over the line. Julian Huxley added the conversion to make it 7-24 at the break.
And the Rebels also had the better of the early exchanges after the break, with Pyle getting his team's second try - after the visitors again kept barging at the Lions' line through numerous phases. Huxley made it 10-point game.
Pyle made that try number three moments later, the Rebels launching another huge raid from the restart and exposing the Lions' defensive frailties - something that has been a major problem for the Johannesburg-based team all season. This time Huxley was wide, but at 19-24 it was certainly game on.
Huxley made that 22-24 with a penalty just short of the hour mark, as the Rebels continued their charge, while Jantjies answered with a penalty of his own five minutes later.
James Hilgendorf got his team's bonus-point try, awarded by the TMO as the crowd voiced their disagreement loudly - having seen what appeared to be a clear knock-on on the big screen - and Huxley gave his team (29-27) the lead with the conversion as the Lions continued to self-destruct.
The penalties continued to mount against a Lions team that has lost all their structure and composure. It was from one of those penalties that Huxley made it 32-27 going into the final 10 minutes.
Jaco Kriel eventually got the Lions' bonus-point try, as the home team set up a strong maul and scrumhalf Michael Bondesio burst through the middle of a ruck-type situation and off-loaded to the replacement. From the touchline Jantjies slotted the conversion to keep his 100 percent kicking record intact - the Lions regaining the lead, 34-32 with six minutes left on the clock.
Now the Rebels were forced to produce desperation plays deep inside their 22 and they conceded a penalty which Jantjies slotted for a 37-32 win.
Man of the match: For the Rebels locks Cadeyrn Neville and Hugh Pyle were all over the park when the Rebels were on the front foot. The Lions front row of Jacobie Adriaanse, Callie Visagie and JC Janse van Rensburg made life very unpleasant for the visitors in the scrums. Scrumhalf Michael Bondesio produced probably the brightest moment of the match to set up the match-winning try, while Elton Jantjies produced a 100 percent goal-kicking performance.. Waylon Murray ran strongly all match. However, our award goes to Lions flank Derrick Minnie - who was a menace to the Rebels, both at the breakdown and in contesting for balls in their air, and was by far the Lions' most productive player.
For the Lions:
Tries: Murray, Minnie 2, Kriel
Cons: Jantjies 4
Pens: Jantjies 3
For the Rebels:
Tries: Robinson, Pyle 2, Hilgendorf
Cons: Huxley 3
Pens: Huxley 2
Lions: 15 James Kamana, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 JR Esterhuizen, 22 Ruan Combrinck.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Stirling Mortlock (captain), 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Tim Davidson, 7 Hugh Perrett, 6 Luke Jones, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Cadeyrn Neville, 3 Jono Owen, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Richard Kingi, 21 Lachie Mitchell, 22 Lloyd Johannson.
Referee: Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)