JOHANNESBURG – The Lions came back from 22-3 down in the first half to beat the Hurricanes 44-29 at Ellis Park on Saturday.
In Christchurch, the Crusaders outlasted the Chiefs 27-13 to secure a trip to Johannesburg for the final.
Here we point out five flashpoints from the two semi-finals…
After a week of copping plenty of criticism – much of it unjustified and over the top – the Lions No 10 silenced all the critics with a quality performance against the Hurricanes. He slotted two penalties and four conversions and missed just two kicks at goal.
But Jantjies also ran strongly with ball-in-hand, and he asked more and more questions the longer the game went on. By the 80th minute he’d matched, if not bested, the highly-rated Beauden Barrett’s showing.
What a comeback
Be honest, who thought it was game over after 30 minutes when the Canes went 22-3 up? The visitors were in complete control of the match against the Lions, bossing all departments and seemingly toying with the Lions; another 50-17 was on the cards, right?
No one expected the fightback, but what a turnaround it was. From the 40th minute, the Lions would score 41 points to the Canes’ seven – arguably one of the biggest comebacks in the competition, if not the biggest.
The Lions have now gone 15 matches unbeaten in Super Rugby at home. Ironically, the last time they were beaten at home, in front of their own fans, was on April 30 last year, by the Hurricanes – the team they beat on Saturday.
In this time Johan Ackermann’s men have got the better of highly-rated outfits like the Canes, Highlanders and Crusaders, who they face in the final on Saturday. With very vocal supporters, the stadium has become a big ally for the team.
The men from Christchurch in New Zealand will feature in their 12th Super Rugby final on Saturday, an indication of how they have dominated the competition which is now in its 21st year. They beat the Chiefs in their semi-final and like the Lions, lost only once during the regular season.
They are seven-times winners, the last title coming in 2008, and have been runners-up on a further four occasions. Favourites for the final, then?
Not for one second do I think Jaco Peyper favoured the Lions in their semi-final – even if some of the Kiwis believe he did – but for the good of the game and to ensure there is no thought of such things, it is imperative that Sanzaar name an Australian officiating team for the final.
Angus Gardner will be the favourite to take the whistle after a good year, and he will deserve being put in charge. Please, let there be no pointing fingers at any officials come Saturday evening.