Lions Secure Super Rugby Grand Final Place Against Crusaders

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In an intense semifinal at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg, the Lions have secured a Super Rugby grand final place against the Crusaders. They have defeated the 2016 championship winning Hurricanes 44-29, to cap off their highly successful season.

Reveling in the hometown support, the hosts came back from a large deficit to avenge a disappointing 2016 campaign. They outscored the ‘Canes six tries to four, to seal a home final for the first time. It was also their first victory over the Hurricanes, in 11 attempts.

Lions 44 – Tries: Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith; Conversions: Jantjies (4); Penalties: (2)

Hurricanes 29 – Tries: TJ Perenara, Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape; Con: Jordie Barrett (2), Beauden Barrett; Pen: J Barrett

In this match, there were two phases of play. It was the opening half, where the visitors did so much right. Leading 3-22, the Hurricanes fans in New Zealand will have continued their party into the small hours, hoping to bring the final across from the republic.

Lions Spoil Hurricanes Party Plans with Determined Result

But with the opening few minutes of the second half, something seemed to change. Momentum or a psychological switch in confidence happened, it appeared to deflate the ‘Canes spirit–as the Lions inflated their own.

Both sides were already known for some fantastic numbers: the Hurricanes for their huge aggregate points accumulation. While the Lions had built up a run of consecutive victories, and it was that type of momentum that supported them in the second half.

In an amazing turnaround, the hosts managed to score within four minutes of the restart. And while the Ross Cronje score was due to pressure alone, it was a turning point in the favour of the home side which the visitors seemed unable to halt.

Second Half Fightback Ends Hurricanes 2017 Season

Not that it was a capitulation, nothing of the sort. The Hurricanes put on a solid performance in attack, but the advantage fell into the hands of the Lions and took much of the ‘fight’ out of the reigning champions.

This was clearly seen in the ruck area. From the statistics, clear evidence showed how the Lions secured 100 rucks, to the ‘Canes 34. Add to that the number of turnovers; where the Lions pilfered more ball and add to that, the additional 128 tackles that the visitors needed to make [not counting the 24 missed tackles]. And the evidence begins to stack up.

And then a moment occurred which will be questioned by plenty. It saw Beauden Barrett given a yellow card in the 58th minute, for both slowing down the play of the ball and seeming to use his feet to gain advantage. After making a tackle on Ruan Combrink, Barrett dragged himself out of the tackle, but his feet dragged the ball towards his goal-line.

It appeared to be accidental, but referee Jaco Peyper deemed it cynical, and sent Barrett away for his fourth yellow card of the season.

Yellow Card Results in Monumental Shift

Chris Boyd was annoyed last week in Canberra–where they won–so tonight, he will be even less impressed. That will be with the discipline, as well as the sides energy. Traveling to the republic early, his men should have adapted to the high veld, but after the 60 minute mark, there was little attack from the men in yellow.

Leaking points, by the 70th minute, it had become an extraordinary comeback. Even while an Nehe Milner-Skudder intercept might well have halted the flow, the team wearing red had the support of the crowd. Everything was falling into there hands, and they were much more devoted to defending their ‘patch’.

The final nail was a try to ex-Sevens player Kwagga Smith. The transformed loose forward had a terrific match, and can cap-off his HSBC Sevens Series victory, with a chance to add a Super Rugby title to that mantle.

To come back from a disappointing first half, and to also regroup from the disastrous 2016 final, it was a superb display. Johan Ackermann must now go into next weeks Grand Final highly confident that his group are in a much better mindset than 12 months ago.

Lions Elated to Reach Super Rugby Grand Final Again

Stand-in captain Jaco Kriel (see below picture) expressed his satisfaction post-match; “We knew the Hurricanes were gonna come for us, and we saw that in the first half. We knew we had to dig deep in the second half, and we did.

Jaco Kriel and coach Johan Ackermann at the post match interview during the Super Rugby, Semi Final match between Emirates Lions and Hurricanes at Emirates Airline Park on July 29, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Getty Images)

“This team has character, and I’m really really proud of them.”

And his delight was shared by fans and commentators in South Africa.

The result now sets up a tantalizing Super Rugby grand final next Saturday. The challengers will be the Crusaders; who triumphed over the Chiefs. The New Zealand team must pack-up and take the long-haul flight to Africa, and hope their formidable form can challenge the tough home side.

It will all make for another week of terrific tension and anticipation in both rugby nations. The classic South Africa v New Zealand match-up will be one to look forward to.

 

“Main photo credit”

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