The Lions started their return to Super Rugby with a runaway 52-14 win over the NWU Pukke team at the Barnard Stadium in Kempton Park on Friday.
After watching from the sidelines in 2013, the Lions are determined to make more of an impact than their last appearance in Super Rugby – when they finished last in 2012.
Friday’s match may have been against a student outfit, but the game allowed a number of fringe players to stake a claim – with the Pumas’ former South African School and SA Under-20 midfielder Stefan Watermeyer getting a hat-trick.
If Lions coach Johan Ackermann wanted an easy run-out that was exactly what he got, while his second team scraped home to a 31-24 win over a Leopards Vodacom Cup selection in an earlier match.
The main match, which featured most of his frontline forwards and a host of Puma backline players, produced eight tries and Ackermann plenty to think about.
Ackermann must now start whittling down his squad ahead of the season opener against the Cheetahs on February 15.
The Lions played two different teams either side of the break, which did not help in creating any kind of consistency.
The first-half Lions’ side scored four tries without conceding, with flyhalf Willie du Plessis and centre Stefan Watermeyer the standout players.
The Johannesburg-based side were solid with their rolling mauls, and there was some good interplay between the ball carriers.
The match also experimented with an extra referee on the field, and the two officials complemented each other well, which ultimately allowed for fewer stoppages.
As was the case in the early match, the Lions got off to a flying start when centre Stefan Watermeyer scored the opening try in the third minute. Willie du Plessis added the extras – 7-0.
And flying left wing Courtnall Skosan went over minutes later, Du Plessis adding the extras, to make it 14-0.
The Lions continued to keep pace with the clock when another flyer, centre JW Jonker, went over in the 21st minute. Du Plessis converted – 21-0.
Watermeyer got his second touch-down and the Lions’ fourth when he went over in the 33rd minute. Du Plessis kept his 100 percent conversion rate to make it 28-0.
The Lions held that advantage through to the break.
Pukke eventually broke their duck five minutes into the second half, when fullback Gerhard Nortier went over for the visitors. Tiaan Dorfling converted to make it 7-28.
Although a rash of changes caused some disruption to the Lions, it wasn’t too long before normal service resumed – with prop Jacobus Roux going over and another replacement, Jaco van der Walt, adding the extras – 35-7.
The rout continued as the game moved into the final quarter, with loose forward Ruaan Lerm – who featured in the early match – getting the five-pointer and Van der Walt adding another conversion – 42-7.
With just over 10 minutes remaining the students got a second try, centre Sylvian Mahuza going over and Dorfling kicking the conversion – 14-42.
It didn’t take the Lions long to regain their scoring form, Lambert Groenewald going over. The conversion attempt was wide of the mark – 47-14 after 72 minutes.
With less than two minutes remaining on the clock the Pumas flyer, Watermeyer, got his hat-trick and even though Tiaan Dorfling missed another conversion the Lions had busted through the half-ton mark – 52-14.
* In the early match the Lions had to stave off a second-half comeback by the Leopards to hold on for a 31-24 win, after both teams were reduced to 14 men – following a first-half punch-up.
The Lions got out the blocks early, a Juan Swanepoel try in the third minute and a Brendon Hewitt conversion gave them a 7-0 lead.
Warren Gilbert pulled three points back for the Leopards in 11th minute, but a Malcolm Marx try minutes later saw the Lions race further ahead (12-0), before both Ruan Venter (Lions) and Robert Kruger (Leopards) were shown red cards after a punch-up in the 16th minute.
Ruhan Nel scored the Lions’ third try in the 22nd minute, with the men from Johannesburg holding on to their 19-3 lead to the break.
It took the Lions just two minutes after the break to get the scoreboard going again, with Swanepoel getting his second, before Jacques Vermaak eventually got a try for the Leopards in the 55th minute.
The Leopards continued their comeback when Molotsi Bouwer scored 10 minutes from time to make it a seven-point game (24-17).
However, the Lions gave themselves some breathing space in the 74th minute, when Adriaan Engelbrecht went over and Ruan van Rensburg converted to make it 31-17.
Two minutes from time Arno Eberson got a consolation score for the Leopards and Liebenberg’s conversion made the final score 31-24.
Match One – Lions 31-24 Leopards:
For the Lions:
Tries: Swanepoel 2, Marx, Nel, Engelbrecht
Cons: Hewitt 2, Van Rensburg
For the Leopards:
Tries: Vermaak, Bouwer, Eberson
Cons: Liebenberg 3
Red cards: Ruan Venter (Lions, 16 – foul play, punching), Robert Kruger (Leopards, 16 – foul play, punching)