The MTN Golden Lions recorded the most emphatic Absa Currie Cup final victory since 1980 when they beat The Sharks, champions in 2010, by 42-16 at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
It was a significant triumph, as it was the Golden Lions’ first outright Absa Currie Cup final victory on home soil since 1950 and their first title since 1999 after losing in the finals of 2002 and 2007.
The winning margin of 26 points is higher than the two biggest Absa Currie Cup finals victories of the last decade, both recorded by the Vodacom Blue Bulls when they beat the MTN Golden Lions in 2006 (31-7) and The Sharks in 2003 (40-19).
The only bigger win in an Absa Currie Cup final than yesterday’s, came in 1980 when the Vodacom Blue Bulls, then still called Northern Transvaal, beat Western Province by 39-9.
The MTN Golden Lions have been the pace-setters all season and built their victory in the final on a superb defensive performance, while they also used their attacking opportunities better than The Sharks, outscoring the visitors by three tries to one.
Golden Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies contributed 24 points and was named Man of the Match, while Jaco Taute scored a try and added a crucial long-range penalty goal. Michael Killian and Patric Cilliers scored the home team’s two other tries.
Jantjies’ points tally is just two fewer than the record of 26 set by Derick Hougaard in 2002, while the Lions flyhalf’s fellow SA U20 team-mate from last year, Patrick Lambie, contributed 25 points in last year’s final for The Sharks, when they defeated DHL Western Province by 30-10 in Durban.
For The Sharks, Willem Alberts crossed for a try that was converted by Frederic Michalak, who also added three penalty goals.
John Mitchell, coach of the MTN Golden Lions, lauded his team’s calmness under pressure as one of the reasons for their great victory. Late in the first half Springbok prop CJ van der Linde was sin-binned for dangerous play, but the Lions did not concede a single point while they were playing with only 14 men.
“When we were down to 14 men, we remained calm and the guys didn’t drop in their performance. This team also kept their composure after the Sharks’ try, which I thought was a dubious decision. I’m very proud of how the team handled those incidents very well as we adapted to the situation,” said Mitchell.
“These past few weeks have been phenomenal. The fact that we played in front of a packed Coca-Cola Park showed how well the guys were playing, and the support has been great.
“People assumed I was crazy to take the job as Lions coach, but I love a challenge and my dream was to restore the pride that was once here in Johannesburg. I know it’s been a frustrating number of years for all Lions fans, who probably had to turn the telly upside down to see their team on top of the log.
“The results weren’t going the team’s way and that hurts because supporters have an emotional connection to their team. I’m very happy with what has been achieved over the last 16 months.”
Sharks coach John Plumtree praised the MTN Golden Lions for a superb performance in the Absa Currie Cup final.
“We were outplayed in every area of the game and were beaten by the better team. They were backed by a massive crowd, they attacked and defended well, and when they got in front it was always going to be difficult for us,” said Plumtree, who coached The Sharks to Absa Currie Cup titles in 2008 and 2010.
“They had created a lot of momentum since the start of this competition and we weren’t able to stop them today. I think they were probably the more cohesive side.”
MTN Golden Lions – Tries: Michael Killian, Patric Cilliers, Jaco Taute. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (5), Taute. Drop goal: Jantjies.
The Sharks – Try: Willem Alberts. Conversion: Frederic Michalak. Penalties: Michalak (3).
MTN Golden Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Doppies la Grange, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7. Michael Rhodes, 6. Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 CJ van der Linde. Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Warren Whiteley, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Butch James, 21 Dylan Des Fountain, 22 James Kamana.
The Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Marius Joubert, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Conrad Hoffmann, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Jean Deysel, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Alistair Hargreaves, 19 Marcell Coetzee, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.
Absa Under-19 A-Division
The Golden Lions made it two from three as their Under-19s fought back to beat the Blue Bulls in the first final of the day by 20-19.
In the Absa U19 A-Division final, the Blue Bulls were well on their way to a win. They lead 6-3 at the break, which they extended to 13-3 early in the second half when Wiaan Liebenberg scored a try.
But the home team remained calm and chipped away at the Bulls’ lead. They ended up scoring three tries after the break for a narrow victory.
Golden Lions U19 – Tries: Errol Jagger, Tiaan Putter, Stephan Nel. Conversion: Marais Schmidt. Penalty: Schmidt.
Blue Bulls U19 – Try: Wiaan Liebenberg. Conversion: Tony Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (4).
Absa Under-21 A-Division
The Blue Bulls made up in the second final of the day when they beat the Sharks in a highly entertaining Absa Under-21 A-Division final by 46-30.
The Pretoria-based team scored six tries to the three of the Sharks as they dominated proceedings from the outset.
Three of the Bulls’ tries came in the first 25 minutes, with the SA Under-20 captains of the last two seasons, CJ Stander and Arno Botha, both crossing the Sharks’ tryline.
The KwaZulu-Natalians’ nippy scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, whose late father Jaco was a Springbok wing and a Springbok sprinter in the 1980s, scored two of his team’s tries. The Sharks U21s fought back well in the second half, but unfortunately their fullback Gouws Prinsloo had an off day with the boot and missed five of his 11 kicks at goal.
With less than five minutes left on the clock, the Blue Bulls were ahead by on36-30, but a late converted try by Dalton Davis and a second penalty goal by flyhalf Louis Fouché sealed the victory for the team from Pretoria.
Blue Bulls U21 – Tries: Juan Schoeman, Courtnall Skosan, Arno Botha, CJ Stander, Franco Mostert, Dalton Davis. Conversions: Louis Fouché (5). Penalties: Fouché (2).
Sharks U21 – Tries: Cobus Reinach (2), Francois Kleinhans. Conversions: Gouws Prinsloo (3). Penalties: Prinsloo (3).