The Lions of South Africa answered harsh criticism from former All Blacks skipper Sean Fitzpatrick with a rousing 33-27 Super 14 triumph over the Waikato Chiefs of New Zealand on Saturday.
Legendary hooker Fitzpatrick laid into the South Africans after a heavy loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend, saying they should hand back their pay cheques after a fifth consecutive defeat on an Australasia tour.
He reserved special criticism for young fullback Earl Rose, claiming his display suggested he got his cheque from the Hurricanes, strong contenders to reach the southern hemisphere inter-provincial championship semifinals.
Rose shrugged off the verbal lashing by scoring 18 points for the Lions, who led 17-13 at half-time, through three conversions and four penalties from angles of varying difficulty.
The other points for the Johannesburg-based franchise came from tries by scrumhalf and man-of-the-match Chris Jonck, number eight Willem Alberts and flanker and captain Cobus Grobbelaar.
The Chiefs saw their outside chance of a top-four finish all but disappear after two players limped off in the first half and prop Ben May was sent off on 64 minutes for stamping a grounded opponent in the face.
The offence proved particularly costly as it happened at the source of a handling move that finished with wing Lelia Masaga dotting down for a try disallowed because of the red-card incident.
Hooker Aled de Malmanche, Masaga and fullback Mils Muliaina crossed the line for Chiefs with two tries coming after the Lions had opened a 20-point gap, while flyhalf Stephen Donald converted all three and landed two penalties.
Chiefs’ late scoring surge did earn a bonus point and lift their total to 34, but the final fixture is fraught with danger against top-four contenders the Sharks in of Durban.
Success after a 10-match run without a win since defeating compatriots the Cheetahs in the opening round was insufficient to lift the Lions off the bottom of the standings.
The lead changed three times in a see-saw opening half in front of a small crowd at Ellis Park, with the Lions applying early pressure to go 10 points clear, only for the Chiefs to edge 13-10 ahead before conceding another try.
With nine minutes left the narrow Lions’ advantage had been transformed into a 33-13 lead thanks largely to the deadly boot of Rose, who kicked three penalties and converted the Grobbelaar try before getting a yellow card.
With numerical parity restored for the last three minutes, Chiefs came at the Lions with Masaga atoning for his earlier disappointment and Muliaina also crossing the line.
The Lions finish with a home fixture against the Stormers, another team chasing a place in the knockout stage of the annual competition. — AFP