Ruben Schoeman was expected to defy the laws of physics on Saturday afternoon at Ellis Park, and quite predictably he lost. Luckily for him, the Lions already had inertia on their side as they claimed their first back-to-back victory this season.
The lock received a red card, which can only be described as farcical, in the 24th minute of the Lions’ United Rugby Championship clash against the Dragons as he attempted to charge down a chip kick of wing Aston Hewitt.
Schoeman’s hip, admittedly, did make contact with Hewitt’s head as he landed, the big second-rower bracing as he did so, but the match officials seemed to expect that the attempt required the Lions man to somehow, through witchcraft perhaps, change direction midair to avoid any contact.
Hewitt ran straight into his challenge, one which Schoeman had the right to play, at least when viewed from the bleachers. At worst, it should have been a yellow card. At most it was only a penalty, and that could also have been argued. At best it was merely a rugby incident.
It seemed to galvanise the Lions in that moment, who hereto had been rather sloppy with their attacking play, coughing up the ball while rumbling forward all too often. They put together one for the highlights reel however, going coast to coast – with a move started on their tryline just behind their poles from an important turnover – for Quan Horn to dot down in the 28th minute.
The sanction disrupted any platform the Lions hoped to build as both their set-pieces were voided. Their line-outs suffered the most, but their much vaunted scrum, which was enjoying dominance but not purchase, was also nullified.
A much better team than the Dragons would have taken advantage of the extra man in 60-odd minutes, but then the Welsh outfit has battled for any form or consistency this season, and failed miserably to do so with an error-strewn performance.
They did manage to cross the tryline twice while playing against 14 men – Hewitt the one beneficiary, with hooker Bradley Roberts the other - but on the balance of things they fluffed several good chances that could have made it a much closer encounter. And that was the biggest difference on the day.
Where the Dragons failed to take their chances, the Lions did not make the same mistake. Indeed, the Joburgers read the situation perfectly, and instead of relying on their forwards to do the damage, opted to use the conditions to run the Dragons off the park.
It led to some wonderful dinks, steps, passes, offloads, runs and tries as they ran the visitors ragged.
Some big defensive plays also kept the hosts in the game. The midfield combo of Marius Louw and Henco van Wyk, in particular, worked hard to rush up, disrupt and make the big hits. It did leave the Lions vulnerable out wide, but such was their ferocious commitment – Louw especially - that it was enough to snuff out any momentum the Dragons were building.
Prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye, meanwhile, put in a massive shift with ball in hand, wrestling his way through tackles with determination. He was roundly applauded for his efforts as he trudged off the field by the small collective of Lions supporters that had assembled at the Park.
Was it a complete performance from the Lions?
Far from it, but it showed a lot of heart and a healthy respect for the match situation and the Lions can be proud of that.
Lions 49 — Tries: Van Wyk, Q Horn, Van der Merwe (2), Van den Berg, F Horn; Conversions: Nohamba (5); Penalties: Nohamba (3); Red card: Schoeman
Dragons 24 — Tries: Tomkinson, Hewitt, Roberts; Conversions: Reed (2); Penalty: Reed (2); Yellow card: Williams