A three-try burst in the space of seven minutes gave the Emirates Lions an unbelievable 32-28 victory over Italian side Benetton in their Vodacom United Rugby Championship match in Treviso on Saturday.
After being dominated for most of the first hour, and trailing 28-13 with 20 minutes to go, Benetton seemed to fall asleep on defence and allowed the Lions to burst through tackles ad score three quick tries to get themselves ahead and press home for the victory.
The win leaves the Lions one point outside the top eight and with two home matches coming, they will be hoping to sneak into the playoffs through the back door.
It was an amazing turn of events after the Lions looked lethargic on defence and allowed Benetton to dictate most of the first hour of the game, but then turned it on when it mattered.
The Lions bench made an immediate impact while Benetton’s bench was the opposite, missing tackles and lacking the intensity that the starting side had put out on the park.
Former captain Reinhard Nothnagel in particular stood out when he came onto the field, stealing two lineouts and making a massive impression.
The hard running loose forwards also made an impression, especially after they were largely anonymous in the first hour.
And it came straight after the Lions had gifted Benetton a bonus point try by missing an easy lineout play, and just had Sanele Nohamba return from a 10-minute stint in the sinbin.
The resurgence began with Edwill van der Merwe getting the ball out wide and in space and putting the afterburners on, beating four tackles before getting stopped. But the tackling malaise continued as the ball was recycled and sent wide, this time captain Marius Louw busting two more before giving the ball to Emmuel Tshituka to go over and score.
Two minutes later the Lions burst out of their own half again, this time Francke Horn putting in a 40 metre run before offloading to Rabs Maxwane to add acceleration to the line.
And then in the 68th minute it was another series of good short passes and missed tackles, as Nothnagel gave a perfect assist to put Tshituka away for his second try and the Lions into the lead.
Earlier it looked like Benetton may run away with the game, especially after three first half tries that stretched the Lions and made their defence look ordinary.
It was two simple backline moves, shifting the ball quickly that the Lions forwards didn’t react well to that saw Joaquin Riera and Marcus Watson score while a rolling maul brought Benetton their third try to hooker Siua Maile.
The Lions managed one try in the first half, also thanks to an excellent rolling maul that moved 20 metres, before a perfect Nohamba pass found a flying Quan Horn, who went in close to the posts.
The second half was grinding along, until the Lions were caught by a short throw at the lineout in a rehearsed move that saw Henry-Time Stowers burst through the middle of the lineout untouched to score and give them their bonus point.
The flurry of tries came most unexpectedly and were so quick and intense that Benetton never recovered as the Lions held on for some very valuable points.
Benetton - tries: Joaquin Riera, Marcus Watson, Siua Maile, Henry-Time Stowers. Conversions: Jacob Umaga (4).
Emirates Lions - tries: Quan Horn, Emmanuel Tshituka (2), Rabs Maxwane. Conversions: Sanele Nohamba (3). Penalties: Nohamba (2)