Even with 14 men, Lions beat Kings 54-10 in Super Rugby

JOHANNESBURG — The Lions responded to a first-half red card for their hooker by playing some of their best rugby of the season to beat the Southern Kings 54-10 on Sunday and close the gap on the Crusaders at the top of Super Rugby.

The Lions were 12-3 up when Robbie Coetzee was sent off in the 31st minute for kneeing an opponent in the head at a ruck. They scored six more tries while down to 14 men in a scintillating performance to keep the pressure on overall standings leaders the Crusaders.

Flanker Kwagga Smith collected two tries and the Lions ultimately overran the Kings by eight tries to one for a bonus-point win.

"To play with 14 men for 60 minutes is extremely tough but we showed some character," Lions captain Warren Whiteley said. "We had to adjust a bit after halftime, being down to 14 men, but I think the guys switched on really well."

The Johannesburg-based Lions secured a 10th straight win and moved back to three points behind New Zealand's Crusaders with two regular-season games to go.

South Africa's Super Rugby teams now have a monthlong break for June internationals.

Lock Andries Ferreira and wing Courtnall Skosan put the Lions in control with early tries before Coetzee responded to a shoulder charge by Kings flanker Chris Cloete in a ruck by hitting him in the head with his knee. Coetzee saw red, and Cloete was yellow-carded.

Smith raced away for his first try right at the end of the first half, when it was 14 men vs. 14 men.

But playing the entire second half a man down, the Lions still attacked with fervor, and often from deep inside their own half, scoring three more tries before the Kings had any more points.

Replacement hooker Malcolm Marx went over in a rolling maul at the start of the second before the Lions turned on the style, with Smith starting a move that saw Ruan Dreyer set up fellow prop Jacques van Rooyen to score under the crossbar.

Smith's second started way down inside the team's own 22 and capped a run of 28 unanswered points by the 14-man Lions.

Against the run of play, Kings center Luzuko Vulindlu intercepted for their only try of the game in the 60th minute.

The Lions created two more tries, and kept going right to the end. Replacement prop Corne Fourie was twice involved in a breakout, eventually providing the final pass for scrumhalf Faf de Klerk to score. After the fulltime hooter, the Lions decided to attack from their own tryline, resulting in fullback Andries Coetzee going nearly 100 meters to score.

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