The Lions downed the Jaguares 40-23 in Johannesburg on Saturday to secure home advantage in the semi-finals. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result means that the Lions will host the Waratahs – who fought back to beat the Highlanders in the earlier quarter-final in Sydney – at Ellis Park next week. The Crusaders and Hurricanes will contest the other semi-final in Christchurch.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin should be relatively happy with his side’s performance. The forwards dominated the set pieces and collisions during the initial stages, the maul fired as expected, and the backs – led by the on-form Elton Jantjies – took some excellent options.
There was no sign of panic in the Lions’ ranks when Nicolás Sánchez kicked two early penalties to put the Jaguares into the lead. Indeed, some big plays by the Lions forwards set the platform for the men out wide. Some excellent kicking, chasing and finishing ensured that the hosts went to the break with a 24-9 lead.
The Lions scrum made a statement when they shoved the Jaguares off the ball just 5m from the hosts’ tryline. Cyle Brink set the tone at the gainline with a teeth-rattling hit on Jaguares captain Pablo Matera.
Jantjies and inside centre Harold Vorster varied their play well. The first two tries were the product of excellent kicking. The third was down to Malcolm Marx’s exceptional defensive read. The hooker intercepted a flat pass and ran 40m to score.
Sánchez kicked a penalty before half-time, and then converted Bautista Delguy’s try after the break. Matera crashed over in the 48th minute, and another successful kick by Sánchez saw the visitors trailing by four points.
The momentum was with the Jaguares at that stage. Brink, one of the stars for the hosts in the first half, left the field with an injury, and the Lions were battling at the gainline.
Then Marx won a crucial breakdown penalty on his own tryline in the 52nd minute. The hosts forced a penalty at the next scrum, and moved back into Jaguares territory as a result.
Then Andries Coetzee broke the final line of defence to score an important try. Jantjies added the extras to give his side an 11-point lead as the game entered the final quarter.
The Jaguares began to tire. The Lions, however, continued to apply the pressure.
Jantjies attempted a drop goal in the 64th minute. The successful kick took the Lions out to a 14-point lead.
The Lions were awarded yet another penalty five minutes from time. Jantjies bisected the uprights to finish the game with a flawless goal-kicking record as well as a personal haul of 20 points.
The Waratahs showed heart to hit back and beat the Highlanders earlier on Saturday. The Lions will be favourites to win the semi-final in Johannesburg, though, given their recent form and that the Sydney-based side will have to overcome travel fatigue in the lead-up to the do-or-die match.
Lions – Tries: Ruan Combrinck, Harold Vorster, Malcolm Marx, Andries Coetzee. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (3). Drop goal: Jantjies.
Jaguares – Tries: Bautista Delguy, Pablo Matera. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (2). Penalties: Sánchez (3).
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smith, 22 Courtnall Skosan, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Jaguares – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Matias Moroni, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera (c), 5 Marcos Kremer 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lavanini, 21 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 22 Martin Landajo, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix