The Lions beat the Sharks 27-10 in Durban on Saturday to finish first in the overall standings. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Hurricanes did the Lions a massive favour when they beat the Crusaders earlier in the day. The result in Wellington saw the Lions heading into the final clash of the regular season needing four log points to finish first in the overall standings.
Many expected the Sharks to roll over for the Lions in this particular match. As the lowest-placed qualifier, the Sharks went into this clash knowing that they would meet the Crusaders or the Lions in the quarter-finals. They would have known beforehand that no South African team has ever won a Super Rugby playoff against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The bottom line? The Sharks knew that a defeat to the Lions this week would better serve them in the long run. It would allow them to play against the Lions in Johannesburg in the quarter-finals, rather than the Crusaders in Christchurch.
That said, the first half was fiercely contested. The Lions' excellent lineout produced one try, but the scrum battled against that of the Sharks. The visitors didn't have everything their own way at the gainline either, and were punished for their poor discipline and unforced errors.
As the first half drew to a close, Elton Jantjies kicked short off a 22m restart and found Kobus van Wyk unmarked. The Sharks winger raced clear to take his side into a 10-8 lead.
This score sparked the Lions to life. Lionel Mapoe broke free of a tackle after the half-time hooter and found Kwagga Smith in support. The diminutive flanker then fed Jaco Kriel an inspired offload, and Kriel didn't hesitate to move the ball wide to Andries Coetzee. The Lions went to the break with a 13-10 lead.
Jantjies kicked two penalties after the break to give his side some breathing room. The Lions enjoyed a nine-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
The Sharks defence began to tire in the closing stages. The Lions, by contrast, grew stronger as the contest progressed. Kriel scored in the 63rd minute to secure the result.
The two teams will meet in a quarter-final at Ellis Park next week.
Sharks – Try: Kobus van Wyk. Conversion: Garth April. Penalty: April.
Lions – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Andries Coetzee, Jaco Kriel. Penalties: Elton Jantjies (4).
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Sbusiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/Backpagepix