The Lions rebounded after trailing by 19 points to beat the Hurricanes 44-29 in the semi-final at Ellis Park on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Lions will feature in the Super Rugby final for the second time in two seasons. They will host a decider at Ellis Park – against the Crusaders – for the first time in history.
Few would have predicted this outcome after the Lions conceded 22 unanswered points in the first 30 minutes of the semi-final against the Hurricanes. At that stage, it appeared as if the Lions were battling to live with the physicality and intensity of the New Zealand outfit.
The Hurricanes punished several mistakes by the Lions during that period. Their forwards were a match for the Lions at the scrum, and their defence succeeded in rattling Lions halfbacks Ross Cronjé and Elton Jantjies.
The Hurricanes were far from clinical, though. Handling errors cost them several clear-cut scoring opportunities towards the end of the first half. Had they taken those opportunities, they may have sealed the result and earned the right to feature in the final.
The Lions maintained their composure. Captain Jaco Kriel led by example when he won a penalty at the breakdown deep in Lions territory at the end of the first half. From there, the Lions worked their way towards the Hurricanes’ tryline, and eventually scored through Jacques van Rooyen.
Jantjies’ conversion ensured that the Lions went to the break with the momentum. Even though the scoreboard read 22-10 in favour of the Hurricanes, the hosts were not out of the contest quite yet.
The forwards fired early in the second stanza, and the Lions continued to control possession and territory. Cronjé scored when he dived from the base of a ruck and planted the ball on the tryline. Jantjies’ conversion reduced the gap to five points.
The Lions lineout was on fire for much of the game. Franco Mostert made several crucial steals over the course of the contest. In the second stanza, the Lions used their driving maul to brutal effect.
Malcolm Marx scored after the Lions successfully set the maul from the lineout in the 53rd minute. The Lions lapsed briefly thereafter, allowing the Hurricanes to hit back via Ngani Laumape at the other end of the field.
But the momentum was with the hosts, and the Hurricanes defence started to feel the pressure. Ruan Combrinck made a searing linebreak and was brought down several metres from the tryline by Beauden Barrett.
The Hurricanes flyhalf attempted to extricate himself from the ruck, but dislodged the ball in the process. Referee Jaco Peyper ruled – correctly – that Barrett had stopped the ball from coming back on the Lions’ side and that he had in all likelihood denied the hosts a try. The upshot was a penalty for the hosts and a yellow card for the Hurricanes’ star player.
The Lions put 17 points past the Hurricanes during the period of numerical advantage. By the time Barrett returned to the field, the Lions were out to a 10-point lead.
Replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe intercepted a pass in the 74th minute and then offloaded to Kwagga Smith. The flanker ran in a try that ended the contest and catapulted the Lions into a home final.
Lions – Tries: Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronjé, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith. Conversions: Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Hurricanes – Tries: TJ Perenara, Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape. Conversions: Jordie Barrett (2), Beauden Barrett. Penalty: Jordie Barrett.
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 (c), 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.
Hurricanes – 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben May.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Julian Savea.
Photo: Kim Ludbrook/BackpagePix