Defeated Lions can hold head high after brave defensive effort against Ulster
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Durban - The Lions return home with just one win from their four matches abroad in the United Rugby Championship, but with their heads held high after a brave defensive effort in Belfast where Ulster sweated to a 26-10 win despite having nearly all of the territory and possession.
The Lions are hardly a glamour side with ball in hand, but they have a knack of hanging in and frustrating their opposition, and perhaps the Joburgers would have had greater menace on attack had they not suffered those tour-ending injuries to flyhalves Jordan Hendrikse and Eddie Fouche.
The Lions began the game on the back foot largely thanks to two penalties against them in the first two minutes and from a resulting lineout on their line, Ulster scored after a clever short-throw move that caught the Lions forwards napping.
The Northern Irishmen maintained the offensive but the Lions scrambled well on defence and then against the run of play were the next to score, when a penalty kicked to the corner culminated in right wing Stean Pienaar scoring in the opposite corner, and EW Viljoen’s well-taken conversion nudged the Lions into an unlikely 7-5 lead at the end of the first quarter.
That score would have given the tourists an injection of confidence, and on the half hour they were given a let-off when Ulster No 8 David McCann dropped the ball with an open tryline in front of him, but the dam wall did collapse five minutes before the break when relentless pressure eventually saw the Ulster backline enjoy a two-man overlap, and centre James Hume scored, with scrumhalf Nathan Doak adding the conversion for a 12-7 lead.
And a minute before the break, a rare period in which the Lions put together multiple phases forced a penalty directly in front of the posts and Viljoen stroked the ball home to cut the deficit to 12-10 at halftime, a scoreline that would have pleased the Lions given they had spent most of the 40 minutes tackling.
The second half resumed where the first had left off, with the Ulstermen throwing everything into the attack and the Lions resolutely hanging on for dear life, which they managed to do for eight minutes of the half before flank Matty Rea wrestled over after a quick tap penalty in front of the Lions’ posts.
In the middle period of the half, the Lions enjoyed a greater share of possession but for all the phases they put together, they lacked penetration and their backs were persistently tackled back behind the advantage line.
And when the game swung back into the Lions’ half, it was a question of time before the Irish would score again, and it was flank Nick Timoney who bustled over from close quarters to add to the try he had scored in the third minute.
The conversion pushed the lead to 26-10 with ten minutes to go and that was the result and bonus point in the bag for the home side.
Lions - Tries: Stean Pienaar. Conversions: EW Viljoen. Penalties: Viljoen.
Ulster - Tries: Nick Timoney (2), James Hume, Matty Rea. Conversions: Nathan Doak (3)