Lions edge 13-man Reds in thriller
The Lions came back from 14 points down to score one of the most impressive comeback victories of the season.
The Lions came back from 14 points down to score one of the most impressive comeback victories - beating the Reds 23-20 at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Keeping the Reds - who were reduced to 13 men in the final 10 minutes as a result of repeated infringements at the breakdown - the Lions scored two converted tries in the last 15 minutes.
At half-time, trailing 6-20 - with all 20 points coming from Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper - the Lions looked dead-and-buried.
However, showing the resilience that has marked their game all season, they cleaned up their act after a very sloppy first half and pulled it out the fire.
First there was a Marnitz Boshoff penalty and then two well-worked tries - the second while the Reds were two men down - to secure the victory.
The Lions will be sweating over the ankle injury suffered by veteran lock Franco van der Merwe early in the match, when he was trapped awkwardly in a tackle.
And the reds will be concerned about star flank Liam Gill, who appeared to pull a hamstring while hacking a ball into touch.
The Lions took a helter-skelter approach, running everything - even from within their own 22. This naive approach proved to be very costly in the early exchanges - 10 points from Quade Cooper in six minutes, including a try from some silly play by the Lions deep inside their own half.
The home team also used all kinds of tricks at the set pieces, especially the line-outs, which backfired badly in a scrappy first half.
The Reds, playing an intelligent territory-based game and applying enormous pressure on the home team, enjoyed the extra possession in open play afforded to them by the Lions' lack of control.
And with this abundance of freedom Wallaby star Quade Cooper weaved his magic, making the Lions' look like amateurs on a training run.
It was not till late in the first half that the home team managed to get an edge in any aspect of the game, their scrum beginning to apply some heat and winning a few free-kicks and penalties.
It was not till they returned to their structures after the break that the Lions managed to apply some pressure on the Reds - pinning them back in their own half for long periods.
After an energetic start that saw two minute of play without any stoppages, the Reds were awarded a penalty for Schalk van der Merwe interfering with the ball on the ground. Quade Cooper made no mistake - 3-0.
The next score came from a shocking bit of play by the Lions, who gifted the ball on the platter with some sloppy handling - Cooper scoring the try and conversion to give his team a 10-0 lead.
It was not till the 13th minute that the Lions had a realistic scoring opportunity - a scrum penalty near the Reds' 10-metres line. Marnitz Boshoff got his team on the board - 3-10.
Minutes later the Lions were penalised for hands in a ruck and Cooper made it a 10-point game again.
And it was Cooper again, who danced through a huge hole in the Lions' defence, that got the second try. The conversion made it 20-3 - all the Reds' points coming from their flyhalf.
After winning a few free kicks and penalties at the scrum, the Lions eventually opted to go for posts right on the stroke of half-time - Boshoff making it 6-20 at the break.
Early in the second half Boshoff attempted a drop-goal, which was wide of the mark. And the Lions managed to take the ball through a few good rushes by forwards, but their hands let them down.
Boshoff, in the 52nd minute, narrowed the gap to 9-20 - when Jake Schatz was penalised at a tackle.
And with just on 15 minutes remaining the home tam got themselves right back into the game - a powerful maul that was illegally stopped, before the ball went to the left where Lionel Mapoe went over with a defender on his back. Boshoff's conversion made it 16-20.
Minutes later the Reds were reduced to 14 men, when replacement hooker James Hanson was yellow carded for repeated infringements at the breakdown. And with six minutes on the clock Jake Schatz joined his teammate in the bin for also fiddling with the ball on the ground.
The penalties continued to mount and the Lions continued to opt for scrums - the referee speaking to the Reds again about repeated infringements.
The pressure eventually told, with Courtnall Skosan diving at the line after yet another penalty, which this time was turned into a line-out and then a maul and a few phases, before the flyer hit the line at pace. It took the TMO and referee several looks, but eventually the try was awarded. Boshoff's conversion gave the home team a 23-20 lead with to minutes to go.
The Reds threw everything into attack, but the Lions held on for one of the great comeback wins of the season.
Man of the match: Will Genia showed the maturity that lacked behind the Lions' pack, while Quade Cooper also enjoyed the rarified air of Johannesburg, his kicks travelling further and with more accuracy - but it was his passing game that caused most of the damage to the Lions. Francois de Klerk may lack the maturity and insight of Genia, but he doesn't lack the talent. Willie Britz was not just the energy in the Lions pack, he also brought some great physicality. However, our award goes to another of the young Lions - lock Franco Mostert, who stepped up in the absence of the injured veteran Franco van der Merwe.
For the Lions:
Tries: Mapoe, Skosan
Cons: Boshoff 2
Pens: Boshoff 3
For the Reds:
Tries: Cooper 2
Cons: Cooper 2
Pens: Cooper 2
Yellow cards: James Hanson (Reds, 70 - repeated infringements at the breakdown), Jake Schatz (Reds, 74 - repeated infringements at the breakdown)
Lions: 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Mark Pretorius, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Stephan de Wit, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Ruan Combrinck.
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Anthony Fainga'a/Ben Lucas, 23 Dom Shipperley.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)