Emmanuel Tshituka. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images)
If there’s one thing Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen can count on, it’s that he can rotate his No 10 jersey at will this season.
Jordan Hendrikse provided another reminder of that on Sunday with a fine individual performance, contributing 19 points in his side’s 33-25 URC victory over the Dragons at Ellis Park.
Entrusted with pivot duty ahead of Gianni Lombard, who toured the UK with South Africa ‘A’ on the back of his excellent showings before the international break, the 21-year-old was composed and directed traffic well in a match that lacked rhythm due to an inordinate number of turnovers and handling errors.
Almost five weeks of downtime might’ve contributed to the rustiness, but if one were to be really critical one could argue this encounter reflected poorly on both sides, especially given how well some of their counterparts cranked into gear upon this weekend’s resumption of action.
Nonetheless, the Lions will be pleased with a powerful and efficient forward effort, highlighted by the relentless carrying of PJ Botha and Emmanuel Tshituka.
Their scrum also held the ascendancy during the afternoon, allowing a platform for either incursions into their opponents’ 22 or for the prodigious boot of Hendrikse to pounce.
Ironically, all three of the Lions’ tries came from close range as showcased their superior firepower in the collisions though that didn’t mean there wasn’t a willingness to be enterprising.
The only problem was that a severe lack of accuracy hampered those attacking moves.
The hosts will also be cognisant of a defence that, while generally organised, is prone to leaking in midfield, placing them under undue pressure.
Dean Ryan’s charges did take advantage of those lapses at times, but also lacked the nous to turn them into points.
Meanwhile, discipline was also a major problem.
Tshituka’s productive afternoon started off badly when he was sent to the bin for a careless trip, while Henco van Wyk was perhaps lucky to get away with just a 10-minute sanction for a reckless cleanout at a ruck.
Welsh international Ross Moriarty was also a sinner for cynically collapsing a maul.
In a tournament where mental steel is important, the Lions will be chuffed that they responded relatively well when they were a man down.
When Tshituka and Van Wyk were both off, the Lions managed to keep the scores level during those periods.
They’re still far from imposing, but there’s much to work with.
Lions – (19) 33
Tries: Ruhan Straeuli, Jordan Hendrikse, JP Smith
Conversions: Hendrikse (2), Gianni Lombard
Penalties: Hendrikse (4)
Dragons – (6) 25
Tries: Sio Tomkinson, James Benjamin, Che Hope
Conversions: JJ Hanrahan (2)
Penalties: Sam Davies (2)