Ruan Delport might have been awarded the player-of-the-match honour as the Lions ran out 49-24 victors over the Dragons on Saturday night, but the influence of Lions skipper Marius Louw in the victory cannot be overlooked or understated.
The Lions were down to 14 men in the 24th minute after Delport’s second-row partner, Ruben Schoeman, was adjudged to have committed a red-card foul on wing Aston Hewitt – a debatable decision for a rugby incident – which could have derailed the entire endeavour at Ellis Park.
Enter Louw and his leadership qualities, which kept the Joburgers zeroed in on their objective of recording a second consecutive victory in their final United Rugby Championship fixture this year.
They did so with aplomb – for the most part – scoring six tries, some of them quite spectacular, to deny the Welsh outfit any advantage.
After the clash, both prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye and scrumhalf Morne van den Berg were magnanimous in their praise for centre Louw.
Said Ntlabakanye: “I have to give huge credit to our captain. He really calmed us down.
“He said to us, ‘Look, just focus on the next play and the next one and the next one’.
“For us to get into the game, we had to keep to the basics and do them very well.”
Van den Berg could only agree. “We just had to reset. It was a bit all over the place at the start.
“Credit to the boys. Credit to Marius, who just reset us, calmed everybody down and gave us the plan, which we had from the start. He helped us just to visualise it again and get it ready to go.”
As alluded to by Van den Berg, the Lions were arguably not at their best. Indeed, after the match head coach Ivan van Rooyen stated as much.
The hosts were perhaps a little too over-eager, a little too loose in their play, attempting a little too much, when they should have maybe kept it a bit ... tighter.
It resulted in some sloppy play, rushed and unconvincing, as they attempted to outplay the Dragons from the get-go.
It was exemplified by the Dragons scoring the first try against the run of play when they charged down a cross-field kick by Sanele Nohamba in the fifth minute.
Although the Lions managed to strike back a few moments later, the initial 20 minutes of the game, punctuated by Schoeman’s red card, was full of poorly executed chances and frustrating plays from both sides.
The red card seemed to slap the Lions out of that complacency, the team following the lead of Louw with a resolute show of character. They still made some mortifying mistakes, but the Dragons’ limitations – a frustrating myriad that lost them the match – aided the Lions as well.
Although Louw downplayed his part in the victory and the overall performance of his team, he beamed proudly after the match.
“Our execution still wasn’t good enough and our breakdown wasn’t good enough,” the 28-year-old explained. “Yes, there were a few good tries, and we knew they would come (but) there were too many errors ...
“We are under no illusion that there will be teams that will come here, who will be stronger, and if we get a red card, make mistakes and are unable to execute, it will not go our way. There are teams that will be better at putting us under more pressure, who can execute and score more tries.
“In that aspect it isn’t good enough to move forward but, obviously, very pleased with the win with 14 men.
“I don’t know if I can take that much credit,” he added.
“It’s about how everyone responds, and they did well to (respond) whatever scenario was given ... We responded well to that.
“I think our energy lifted after that red card. We were a bit loose that first 10 minutes mentally.”
From that perspective, it was an important psychological victory, one that will stand them in good stead in the next fortnight when they face Perpignan away and Newcastle Falcons at home in the EPCR Challenge Cup.