Wandisile Simelane was on fire for the Lions
Whether Ivan van Rooyen had a crystal ball on hand with a clear vision or simply instilled a heap of confidence in him, the Lions coach’s decision to hand Wandisile Simelane a start paid off handsomely.
The gifted midfielder wreaked havoc at outside centre, particularly in the first half, as his side romped to a morale-boosting 61-31 victory over Griquas in a Super Rugby Unlocked meeting at Ellis Park on Friday evening.
Billed as one of the players to watch in the build-up to the game, Simelane proved a perfect complement to a brawny partner in Dan Kriel while delivering the type of magic that transformed the Lions into a potent attacking unit of old.
He had a direct hand in three of home side’s four tries in the first 40 minutes.
His first moment came from a tighthead at scrum-time, where he made the break on the outside for lively fullback Gianni Lombard to deliver a delightfully snappy scoring pass to wing and hat-trick hero Courtnall Skosan.
Following another fluent attacking movement on the left, Simelane then smartly drew two defenders to leave a screaming gap for Kriel to glide through.
He then hared down the middle to pick up a kick forward from a turnover to hand Skosan his brace and, in the final movement of the first half, he managed to brilliantly get his hands through two tackles to give another scoring pass to right wing Stean Pienaar.
And to cap off a fabulous individual performance, the former Junior Springbok star launched a neat chip and a searing turn of pace in the 69th minute to score a try of his own, a piece of skill that alleviated any jitters that the Lions might miss out on a full house of points.
It wasn’t just the Simelane show though.
Following a tough week where they had to contain a potential Covid-19 outbreak and watch last weekend’s match against the Cheetahs being postponed, the Lions were purposeful and enthusiastic.
Their scrum proved rampant, they used strike runners among their forwards well and, in general, defended stoutly.
Griquas will be mighty disappointed with a poor showing in the first half, struggling to keep their set-pieces tight and wasting at least three potential scoring opportunities despite enjoying the minority of possession.
But they could take heart from a decent final 40 minutes as they exploited some iffy Lions exits to briefly threaten the hosts’ full-house of log points before two late tries rendered their defeat more emphatic.
Lions 61 (28)
Tries: Courtnall Skosan (3), Dan Kriel, Stean Pienaar, MJ Pelser, Jaco Visagie, Wandisile Simelane, Reinhard Nothnagel
Conversions: Elton Jantjies (8)
Griquas 31 (3)
Tries: Zak Burger, HJ Luus, James Verity-Amm, Tinus de Beer
Conversions: George Whitehead (4)