The Emirates Lions headed into Round 5 of the Vodacom Super Rugby season desperate to avenge an unexpected loss against the Blues. South Africa’s front runners paid a steep price for a game-management tutorial delivered by Murphy Taramai’s try in Round 4 which saw the Blues complete a stunning comeback in the final quarter to demolish fortress Ellis Park.
Over the past few seasons, the Lions have made the most of their high-altitude venue to close out matches in the final 25 minutes, and they even played well with 14 men in the tail end of last year’s final.
However, last year the All Blacks developed an intriguing trend where they clinched seven of their 11 victories in the first 60 minutes. Only three of their wins were decided in the final 25, and they were beaten during the final quarter in both of their losses.
It seems that teams may be moving towards a model of piling up a lead and then protecting that advantage to the final whistle, instead of trying to wear down rivals and then scoring in the last quarter.
The Lions have done it this year, winning three out of four but losing the final 25 minutes in every one of those matches.
However, making the most of the final quarter requires clever game management – as the losing team chases the game, they make mistakes, struggle to execute and open themselves up to turnover opportunities.
When the Sharks visited Ellis Park in Round 2, the visitors missed the chance to win the game on the last play. The Lions defence held up well and Hacjivah Dayimani’s turnover sealed the deal.
One of the strongest points about the Lions is how they respond immediately after conceding a try – they will hunt you down and score very quickly. But it seems the same can be said about them in that, after they score, they are vulnerable to conceding a try – the Jaguares and Bulls both highlighted this point.
The Bulls game was marred by ill-discipline from the Loftus side which saw the Lions take a blowout lead. Despite a valiant comeback, the Pretoria side still lost.
The Jaguares could say the same as they also manufactured a mini comeback that ended in defeat.
Both these sides tried to keep pace through kicks at goal, but it was the Lions’ ability to score tries that eventually overwhelmed their rivals. The Blues matched the Lions’ haul of five tries.
While Swys de Bruin’s team will continue to rank among the Super Rugby contenders, Tana Umaga’s blueprint for success at Ellis Park may hold the secret to stopping South Africa’s best team – if you can keep up with the Lions, they can be overtaken in the final 20.
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