The Jaguares beat the Lions 34-22 in Buenos Aires on Saturday to deny the Johannesburg-based franchise a top-of-the-log finish. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The conference stage has come to an end. Following the defeat to the Jaguares, the Lions have slipped to second place in the overall standings.
The Lions will host the Crusaders in the quarter-finals next Saturday. Had they won or obtained a losing bonus point in Buenos Aires on Saturday, they would have hosted the Sharks in a quarter-final. They also would have earned the right to host a potential final.
For 60 minutes, it seemed as if the second-string Lions side would realise that objective. However, as the game entered the final quarter, the visitors' inexperience and ill-discipline cost them dearly.
The Jaguares did well to stay in the contest in the first half. Their scrum got the better of the Lions set piece from the outset, and Nicolás Sánchez punished the visitors' transgressions with his accurate kicking boot.
The Lions scored two tries in the first half, but went into the break with a slender 15-12 lead. They scored immediately after half-time, with Anthony Volmink claiming his second try of the evening. At that point, it seemed as if they would achieve the improbable and win the game.
The Jaguares, however, continued to dominate the scrums and collisions. They used the set piece as a launchpad and a means to force penalties and in one instance, a penalty try. By the 57th minute, they had moved into a 24-22 lead.
The Lions began to panic as the game raced towards its climax. The inexperience of this second-string side showed as players missed tackles or gave away cynical penalties. Cyle Brink was shown yellow for one such infringement in the 54th minute, and the Jaguares scored 10 points in his absence.
The Jaguares scored again in the 65th minute, and Sánchez nailed a conversion that extended the hosts' lead to 12 points. The kick effectively killed off the Lions' hopes of topping the log.
The Lions needed to score a try in the remaining minutes in order to claim a losing bonus point and top the overall log. It was easier said than done, however, as the visitors were battling to get out out of their own half, and the Jaguares were defending rabidly.
The Lions continued to make mistake after mistake. When Lourens Erasmus was yellow-carded in the 75th minute for a cynical infringement, their ambition of scoring the all-important five-pointer was dashed.
Jaguares – Tries: Facundo Isa, penalty try, Mattias Alemanno. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (2). Penalties: Sánchez (5).
Lions – Tries: Anthony Volmink (2), Sylvian Mahuza. Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (2). Penalty: Van der Walt.
Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo (c), 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Facudo Bosch, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Mattias Alemanno, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Mattias Orlando.
Lions – 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé (c), 8 Cyle Brink, 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Stef de Witt, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Clinton Theron, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Fabian Booysen, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Ashlon Davids.
Photo: Alejandro Pagni/AFP Photo