Johannesburg – Lions boss Johan Ackermann has heaped praise on Elton Jantjies after the flyhalf led his team to a 26-19 win against the Southern Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Friday night.
The four log points earned by the Lions gives them the advantage ahead of the second promotion-relegation clash in the two-match series that will determine which of the two sides plays in next year’s Super Rugby competition.
The Kings, though, despite going down to the men who sat out his year’s competition, did bag a bonus point for losing within seven points, so a win and denying the Lions a bonus point at Ellis Park next Saturday will be enough for them to retain their Super Rugby status.
Jantjies, who spent the better part of the season playing at flyhalf for the Stormers, returned to his home union and contributed significantly to the Lions’s victory.
He kicked four penalties and two conversions and Ackermann said the youngster did everything asked of him.
“He was under a lot of pressure going into the game, but like I said in the build-up, I’ve got a lot of faith in him,” said Ackermann, who was a satisfied man yesterday.
“Elton’s defence was outstanding. He was right up there in our team for tackles made, while he also made a few turn-overs. He kicked well at goal and even created a try for Stokkies Hanekom.
“I’m pleased with his performance and he’ll have gained plenty of confidence playing in a winning team and making such a big contribution.”
It was a big call by Ackermann to include Jantjies in the team ahead of Marnitz Boshoff, who had done so well during the Vodacom Cup and the string of friendly matches the Lions played during the season.
“I’m pretty blessed right now. It was tough to leave Marnitz out, but the call was the good one in the end. Marnitz is an excellent player and it’s great having him on the bench,” added Ackermann.
Both teams scored two tries, but the Kings’ ill-discipline, especially in the first-half, cost them dearly.
Captain Darron Nell admitted as much afterwards.
“The Lions retained possession well and we couldn’t get anything going in the set phases,”he said.
“But the bonus point was vital and we’re certainly not out of the tie.
“We now know what we need to do, and that’s go to Joburg and win by more than seven points.”
Lions skipper JC Janse van Rensburg was a proud man following the triumph.
“We made a lot of mistakes, but hats off to the boys; they played with guts and passion and once we settled, we actually played some good rugby,” he said.
“I thought we took control of the game after half-time and that was pleasing.
“Now it’s our turn to play in front of our fans. We love Ellis Park, the dry conditions, and hopefully we’ll be able to play a bit with ball in hand this coming weekend.”
Both teams suffered a string of injuries, with the Kings especially worried about flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, who left the field just after half-time on Friday night with what looked like a hand injury.
The Lions will be sweating on Jaco Kriel, Martin Bezuidenhout, Wian van der Watt and Deon van Rensburg.
Michael Bondesio is also out of this weekend’s game after being told that he has to undergo a knee operation, while Ross Cronje is doubtful after having picked up a hamstring injury. – Sunday Independent