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    Lions’ mastery leaves cold front in Cape

    2018-04-07 21:22

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - It may now require a disastrous Australasian tour by the Lions for any other team in the South African conference to haul them in for best possible knockout seeding domestically in Super Rugby 2018.

    Swys de Bruin’s charges have reached the halfway mark of their 16-game ordinary-season programme … and celebrated with a thumping 52-31 triumph over the fast-fading Stormers at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

    The result seemed to underline in a bright, felt pen that the Lions - significantly resurgent after a ropey few weeks - remain the front-line South African hope for the overall title, only echoing what happened in 2016 and 2017 when they were tournament runners-up each time.

    By earning this full-house victory over their southern rivals, the Johannesburg outfit, with 25 log points, also romped to particularly clear-cut supremacy in the conference, now 11 points clear of the second-placed Sharks (although the homeward-bound side from Durban have a game in hand).

    The Stormers, meanwhile, stay marooned on 13 points, failing for a second week in succession to bag anything at all from a derby - they had also been beaten 33-23 by the Bulls last time out.

    With three wins from eight matches, they have it all to do just to make sure they qualify for the knockout phase, and much introspection required during their merciful, bye fortnight.

    The Lions have also recaptured top spot competition-wide, but it is a deceptive status because a handful of teams, breathing right down their necks, boast games in hand.

    Still, they should enjoy their own bye weekend more than the Stormers, given that it prepares them both mentally and physically for the demands of a four-match sequence across the Indian Ocean: Waratahs, Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders.

    It was a thoroughly revitalising win, secured by eight tries to four and with a multi-layered, skill-laden strategic approach that rather showed up their too-predictable-by-half Cape visitors.

    As SuperSport pundit and former Springbok coach Nick Mallett so rightly observed afterwards, the Stormers badly overdid the policy of “playing off No 9 to a forward” and the Lions cashed in ruthlessly on turnovers - which came all too easily from the dominant likes of Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith on the deck.

    Behind the scrum, left wing Madosh Tambwe had a dream match for visits to the tryline - even if the bounce was often splendidly in his favour - registering four all of his own, including the hat-trick being bagged as swiftly as the 17th minute.

    That is the stuff of sporting comic heroes, isn’t it?

    Just as influential in the Lions backline were flyhalf Elton Jantjies and fullback Andries Coetzee, especially for their kick-related decision-making, whilst Springbok right wing Ruan Combrinck, back after a lengthy absence through injury, had some extremely satisfying moments as he felt his way back into the first-class fray.

    A battery of Bok-capped Stormers players left the park with tails firmly between their legs, although exceptions included the immense Pieter-Steph du Toit - he carried the ball like a man possessed at blindside flank - and tighthead prop Wilco Louw, who sometimes covered the park more like an athletic loose forward, despite his 130kg, to aid the (often dreadfully shaky) defensive cause.

    Although they have two weeks to lick their wounds, the Capetonians can’t yet claim that the recent “derby curse” is behind them - their next outing is against the Sharks at Kings Park.

    Right now, Robert du Preez’s side look a better SA bet to keep at least some heat on the Lions, given that their two-match New Zealand leg went immeasurably better than the pair of earlier fixtures in Australia.

    They beat the Blues, and many rugby fans universally who saw their latest game against the Hurricanes will still be scratching their heads as to how they were pipped at the post (38-37) in the tour closer after the most gallant of shifts … or shall we say for 82 of the fateful 83 or so minutes?

    If the Sharks reproduce their physical, high-tempo NZ form frequently enough back home - they now look forward to eight of nine remaining matches being on South African soil - there could still be a sting to the tail in the local conference.

    Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):

    Friday, April 13

    Hurricanes v Chiefs, - 09:35

    Saturday, April 14

    Sunwolves v Blues - 05:05

    Rebels v Jaguares - 07:15

    Highlanders v Brumbies - 09:35

    Waratahs v Reds - 11:45

    Sharks v Bulls - 17:15

    Byes: Lions, Stormers, Crusaders

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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