April 3, 2016 - I'm very dissappointed in my Lions team after the Crusaders loss on Friday. Not because we lost, but because we were thoroughly outplayed by a team playing clever rugby, and they are clearly a few levels above us. I was hopeful that 2016 would be a good Super Rugby season for the Lions but this game made me realise that even though we might qualify for the playoffs, we still don't quite have what it takes to win the competition.
What I mean by clever rugby by the Crusaders is the way that they make sure that they exit their 22 efficiently, unlike the Lions that get caught in our 22 way too often, and then the offload rugby that they played against us, something we do sometimes get right but the Crusaders gave us a masterclass in on Friday.
The Crusaders first try came within the 1st minute on Friday when Jantjies gathered a kick inside his 22, ran the ball but got caught just 10 metres further, the Lock Scott Barrett stole the ball at the ruck that got sent down the backline to the left where Mnisi rushed up in defense and tried to intercept the pass to Nadolo, who then had Crotty on his left and just Coetzee ahead of him. Coetzee bravely made the tackle on Nadolo but the pass to Crotty was made and the Saders went into an very early 5-0 lead.
The Lions did hit back just minutes later when Mnisi threw an inside switch pass to Combrinck on the Crusaders 10 metre line and Combrinck drew the last defender and then put Mapoe away for the try. Jantjies kicked the conversion and the Lions took a 7-5 lead.
The Lions then gifted the Crusaders a try when Faf de Klerk threw a long loopy skip pass to Skosan that was intercepted by McNicholl who scored in the right corner. Mo'unga converted to make it 12-7 for the Saders after 13 minutes.
Straight from the restart the Crusaders conceded a penalty and Jantjies kicked it to make it 12-10 for the visitors after 15 minutes.
Then some great offload rugby by the Crusaders when Read passed to Barrett who found Crockett who scored, the gap created by Julian Redelinghuys who rushed up out of the line. Mo'unga converted and the Crusaders took a commanding 19-10 lead after just 20 minutes.
Elton Jantjies then scored a great try when the Lions had a ruck close to the Crusaders line, Jantjies timed his run to the right brilliantly and when he received the pass from Faf had just the Crusaders Lock to beat to the corner. Jantjies converted his own try from the touchline to make it 19-17 for the visitors after 28 minutes.
The Lions then took the lead with a penalty from Jantjies from the halfway line after the Crusaders transgressed at a scrum, the score 20-19 after 32 minutes.
On the stroke of half time the Crusaders took back the lead with a penalty inside the Lions 22 to make the score 22-20 at the break.
Crotty then scored his second try on the night, when the Crusaders sent the ball down the backline from a line-out on the Lions 22, Crotty straightened and Mnisi missed the tackle, and then Crotty stepped Skosan in the last line of defense to score next to the upright. With the conversion good it put the Crusaders in a 29-20 lead with 30 minutes left in the match.
We then saw a few very poor passes from Faf de Klerk on the halfway line putting the Lions under pressure, followed up by a box-kick by him caught by McNicholl on his 10 metre line who then beat a few tackles before the ball went down the backline of the Crusaders where Nadolo beat the tackle of Mnisi and then put Crotty over for his 3rd try of the night. Mo'unga ckicked the conversion and the Crusaders now had a healthy lead of 36-20 with 28 minutes left.
Akker van der Merwe then scored a brilliant try, but watching the replay later confirmed my suspicion that the whole move started when Akker joined a ruck inside the Lions 22 from the side and kicked the ball forward, Nadolo picked the ball up but lost it in the tackle, where Mapoe picked it up and made some ground before passing to Coetzee who passed back to Akker who then ran in the 45 metre try down the right hand touchline. Jantjies kicked the difficult conversion to make it 36-27 for the Crusaders with 15 minutes left in the game.
The Crusaders then turned another Lions ball over at a ruck, just outside the Lions 22, the Saders hit left and the right and McNicholl was in space on the right, where Skosan made a bit of a blunder by defending in instead of trusting the inside defense, McNicholl then ran round him and passed inside to Drummond who scored the 6th Crusaders try of the night. The conversion was good and the Crusaders lead 43-27 with 13 minutes left to play.
Akker van der Merwe scored his second try when the Lions took a quick tap penalty 5 metres from the Crusaders line and he bashed over for the try, converted by Jantjies to make it 43-34 for the Crusaders with 10 to play.
The Crusaders defense then held for the next 10 minutes although they conceded a penalty on the hooter, and the Lions then opted to take the 3 points as it gave them a losing bonus point.
The Crusaders were well-deserved victors with 43-37, and Ryan Crotty was named man of the macth for his three tries.