The Golden Lions dedicated their stirring 38-37 come-from-behind Currie Cup win over the Pumas to their fallen former star wing James Small.
The Lions were staring down the barrel at 21-37 with a quarter of an hour to go but they then showed the courage and bloody mindedness that were hallmarks that made Small‚ who started and ended his career with the Lions‚ such a formidable force.
The match became a rallying point for the Lions after Small died of a heart attack last week.
“Especially for Dillon [Smit]‚” noted captain Ross Cronjé. “He was very close to James. “It was a big moment for him. Obviously there was a bit of talk before the game. [He was] one of the legends of SA rugby. We paid our respects. Obviously this win goes out to him‚” said Cronjé.
Scrumhalf Smit had played under Small’s tutelage at the University of Potchefstroom before he moved to Johannesburg.
“He was the one that backed him no matter what. He pretty much was the one who started Dil’s career‚” said Cronjé.
“He was a great mentor for him‚” said Golden Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.
The coach was mightily relieved the team dug themselves out of a hole after it looked as if the visitors had played themselves into an unassailable position.
The Lions‚ however‚ engineered a remarkable turnaround as right wing Madosh Tambwe continued to escape the clutches of the visiting defence. Remarkably‚ he ran in four tries.
“He is a great finisher. Good pace‚ tall‚ he’s special‚” said the taciturn Van Rooyen.
“Great character [shown] by the team‚” said Van Rooyen. “You could see it is our first match together. We were still rusty in that first 30. I’m ecstatic about the comeback‚ especially with so many youngsters on the field.”
Van Rooyen said the belief within the group helped secure the win.
“With 15 minutes to go it was about how deep we could go. We felt one or two things started going our way and we decided to back that. Things got better.”
Cronjé pinpointed the moment he felt the momentum shift.
“The big turnaround was Stean [Pienaar] making that break and us scoring that try. That gave the boys a bit of belief. You just need one small moment like that from a youngster to get the rest of the boys fired up and charging. Obviously our fitness also came into play‚” said Cronjé.
Earlier‚ however‚ the Lions were out of kilter. Their attack in particular seemed disjointed.
“We weren’t in the right positions in the first half‚” admitted Cronjé. “We had to adjust on the field. Just make one or two changes. Once those were made things started to flow a bit better.”
The win would have emboldened the Lions‚ but their euphoria would have subsided by the time they play their next game. They have a bye this week.
“It is not ideal but it gives us a week to work with the younger guys‚” Cronje said. “Keep on working our systems."