Match Review: Game of Two Halves

In a game where both sides dominated one half, it was the Emirates Lions who delivered a match-winning second half performance to edge the Hollywoodbets Sharks 20-18 in a testing Vodacom United Rugby Championship derby at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday.

Although the Lions hadn’t won in Durban since 2017, they somehow fought their way back from an almost unassailable position to deny the hosts any second half points to earn a dramatic win.

The visitors struck first, former Hollywoodbets Sharks scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba slotting a penalty from right in front after a quick tap penalty had gained the visitors enough space to make sure of the three pointer inside the opening 10 minutes, but Curwin Bosch levelled matters within the next five minutes as the Lions conceded a penalty on defence and there was no problem with the conversion.

The second half of the first quarter belonged to the home side as the Lions found themselves pinned in their half and for periods in their 22. Given the heat on the day, the referee called for a water break at the 20-minute mark before the Hollywoodbets Sharks delivered their most effective attack featuring nearly the entire team before the ball went across the field to Makazole Mapimpi who went over in the corner, giving Bosch a difficult but ultimately successful conversion for a 10-3 lead.

Bosch extended the margin to 10 points on the half hour after a period of attack failed to deliver the result, but his educated boot struck a well-placed drop-goal with the Lions defence waiting for ball-runners.

Two minutes later speedster scrumhalf Grant Willi9ams showed his athletic agility as he darted around a ruck and with barely space to work, dived over in the corner, taking two hapless defenders with him to work his team into a 15-point lead.

The 18-3 scoreline reflected the pressure the Hollywoodbets Sharks had placed on the Lions and their 72% territory meant the visitors has been forced to play much of their possession out of their half.

There were a few anxious moments to negotiate when the Lions earned a jackal penalty, but their maul was unable to withstand the force of the Hollywoodbets Sharks defence and they were bundled into touch to close out an entertaining half.

Despite having played second fiddle for much of the first half, the Lions came out showing a lot more intensity and harassed the home team into conceding a number of penalties before the referee finally awarded a penalty try and issued a yellow card for repeated infringements in the opening quarter hour.

The Lions cut the lead to five points with a penalty as the game went into the final quarter and it was a case of first half echoes where one side was able to put pressure on the other and deny them.

Going into the final minutes, the Lions continued their dominance of the second half, having denied the home side any scoring opportunities in a frustrating half and the game lit up with three minutes remaining, another penalty conceded to put the Hollywoodbets Sharks under pressure and from the resultant lineout drive, the Lions mauled the ball over in the corner to level the scores at 18-all.

The touchline conversion under severe pressure went over and the Lions were in the lead for the time.

But there was still more drama to come as Vodacom Player of the Match Eben Etzebeth earned a penalty after the kick-off and Boeta Chamberlain was handed the responsibility of winning the game, but the conversion attempt went wide to close out a frustrating second half and the match.

Afterwards, Etzebeth said, “All credit to the Lions, we could have been better in the second half but they came out firing, we slipped away from our game plan and couldn’t pull it through, but massive respect to the Lions.”