Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – You get the feeling to an increasing extent that
the Lions just don’t do “depressed”.
There was even a reminder of it in the obligatory post-match
television interviews following their narrow, pulsating 35-33 Super Rugby
reverse to the Bulls at Loftus last Saturday.
SuperSport’s Owen Nkumane put it to losing captain Warren
Whiteley that they “didn’t get going” in the encounter.
It just seemed an inappropriate choice of words in the heat
of the moment, given that the increasingly hard-to-subdue Lions hit their
straps commendably after going as much as 25-10 down at one stage and later effectively
“winning” the second half 20-10.
“I thought we did get going, Owen,” protested Whiteley,
firmly but politely, to the former Golden Lions and Springbok hooker.
Nkumane certainly hadn’t been guilty of the worst howler
ever on live TV, but the skipper clearly still felt strongly enough to correct
him, simultaneously reminding that if anyone was going to suggest his team was
the day’s corpse, it still had a rather noticeable pulse after a superb
The result snapped a five-game winning streak by the Lions,
who will be starting to realise just how difficult it is to actually make the
cut for the finals series: they will almost certainly still require a very
minimum of three wins from five remaining matches for a maiden ticket to the
Should they lose at Emirates Airline Park to the similarly
ambitious Highlanders on Saturday (15:00 kickoff), that target suddenly has
even less margin for error in the run-in.
There must be every chance that the Lions have staved off
any down-heartedness in the aftermath of Loftus – just for one thing, they
continued to play a multi-faceted, up-tempo brand of rugby for decent chunks of
the lauded derby.
But there is an addition reason to suspect they will be
firmly back on the horse from a desire point of view come this weekend’s
It relates to last year’s agonising, controversial loss to
the very same Highlanders in Dunedin; the second game of their overseas tour
after a 38-8 thumping from the Chiefs which had them on the back foot straight
But as proof even a year ago that however hard you bash them
on the head, the Lions always seem to get back courageously to their feet, they
produced a fight-back of no small magnitude at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
They were at sixes and sevens in the first half, as the
Highlanders waltzed over for three unanswered tries to lead 23-0 at the break
and with another painful result for the Jo’burgers seemingly in the offing.
Then, however, the Lions suddenly found some vibrancy and
started racking up some success of their own in the “tries for” column.
They had already earned three of them when, late on,
substitute second-rower Rudi Mathee thought he had earned the visitors a quite
fairytale winning score as he pressed the ball down against the post padding –
the conversion would have been a formality to put the Lions ahead for the first
time at 24-23.
Instead Aussie referee Angus Gardner sent the decision
upstairs to TMO Vinny Munro, who claimed no evidence of the ball being
Irked but still not beaten, the Lions actually managed
another try anyway – their bonus-point one – in the 79th minute via
wing Courtnall Skosan, but it was dotted a long way out and Elton Jantjies’s
conversion agonisingly struck an upright and came back to leave the final score
at Highlanders 23 Lions 22.
There was another talking point even then, as the
Highlanders had seemingly charged from the blocks too quickly in the flyhalf’s
run-up, presenting a case for a second crack, which Gardner declined to award.
This will be the anniversary weekend in calendar terms of
that hotly-debated contest, and if Lions coach Johan Ackermann wants to put a constructive
bee in his troops’ bonnets, he might do well to show his 2015 squad at least
the second-half footage of it.
That said, the Lions can seldom be accused of being low on
motivation ... for any comers.
Mental scarring from the Pretoria humdinger? I doubt it,
even if the current Highlanders seem a particularly hard nut to crack and have
already whipped both prior SA opponents the Sharks (48-15) and Stormers (39-21)
this season ...*Follow
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing