Elton Jantjies missed a last-minute conversion as the Highlanders beat the Lions 23-22 in Dunedin on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The game looked to be over at half-time after three tries saw the hosts lead 23-0. But the Lions hit back with four second-half tries, the last of which came in the 79th minute when Courtnall Skosan went over. Crucially, though, the try was scored out wide, which left Jantjies with a difficult conversion to snatch victory. It fell just short, but the flyhalf should have been allowed to kick again as the Highlanders had charged him before he began his run-up. The referee, though, blew the final whistle.
The Lions will also be aggrieved with the TMO, who didn't award Warwick Tecklenburg's late try when he appeared to score against the base of the post. That would have resulted in a simple conversion and a one-point win for the visitors.
The Highlanders appeared to be affected by their long trip back from South Africa, as they fired in the first half and then faded badly in the second.
Richard Buckman struck early for them when he broke down the right touchline and beat four defenders before scoring in the corner. TV replays suggested the winger may have put a leg in touch while being tackled, but the TMO gave the green light. Shortly after, Marnitz Boshoff's 13th drop-goal attempt of the season went wide to bring his success rate below 50%.
Bateman slotted a penalty and a drop goal to make it 13-0, with Buckman then threatening again down the right side. This time he chipped over the defence into the in-goal area, but was unable to get there first.
But the winger did get his second, four minutes before the break, when the Lions gave away possession in the Highlanders' half. The hosts went wide to Phil Burleigh, who kicked upfield, and Buckman outsprinted two defenders to dive on the ball. Replacement Gareth Evans then scored in the left corner on the stroke of half-time, and while both conversions were missed, they had a 23-point lead.
The Lions responded early in the second half when Faf de Klerk took a quick penalty tap and passed to Stefan Watermeyer, who was brought down just short of the line. De Klerk then darted over from the ruck and Boshoff kicked the conversion.
The Highlanders were reduced to 14 men when Chris King elbowed Warren Whiteley, who didn't have the ball, in the face. And while the Lions dominated possession over the next 10 minutes, they couldn't add to their tally.
They did, though, when a good run from Boshoff saw JW Jonker send Lionel Mapoe away for a well-deserved try. The Lions then won a lineout inside the Highlanders' 22, and a peel-around saw Whiteley pass to Armand van der Merwe on the blindside, and the replacement hooker bounced off Aaron Smith to score. Boshoff missed both conversions, but at 23-17 the Lions were back within striking range.
The visitors spent the last five minutes of the match camped on the Highlanders' tryline, resulting in Jantjies' controversial conversion miss.
Highlanders – Tries: Richard Buckman (2), Gareth Evans. Conversion: Hayden Parker. Penalty: Parker. Drop goal: Parker.
Lions – Tries: Faf de Klerk, Lionel Mapoe, Armand van der Merwe, Courtnall Skosan. Conversion: Marnitz Boshoff.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Jason Emery, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Chris King.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Kane Hames, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Gareth Evans.
Lions – 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 MB Lusaseni, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Rudi Mathee, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Lionel Mapoe gained 77m with ball in hand (the most by a Lions player) from 10 carries, and scored his side's second try.
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