The Lions have crashed to a third straight defeat on their tour of Australasia, going down 39-27 to the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.
It followed earlier defeats by the Reds and Hurricanes last week, with their only win coming in game one of the four-match tour, against the Waratahs in Sydney.
Swys de Bruin’s men though remain on top of the SA Conference, but they won’t be happy with a record of played 12 and won six for a 50% win rate with four games to go in the round robin phase of the Super Rugby competition.
The Lions will now return home and look to find the magic formula that they seem to have lost since that opening tour win in Sydney.
On Saturday they did enough to pip the Highlanders, who were well beaten by the Sharks in Durban the week before, but some poor tackling in the early stages of the match and conceding soft turn-overs allowed the home side to get ahead and stay ahead throughout the 80 minutes.
Some poor option-taking and costly kicking errors also didn’t help De Bruin’s team who’ll feel they should have got something out of the match.
Tries by Lima Sopoaga, Liam Coltman and Luke Whitelock helped the Highlanders into a comfortable 19-3 lead two minutes from half-time, but a late first half rally by the Lions saw them close to within four points at the break – the closest they’d get to hauling in their opponents. Harold Vorster scored a try in the 39th minute and then after the time had reached the 43rd minute hooker Robbie Coetzee went over from a driving maul.
Needing to start the second half well and put the home team under pressure from the off the Lions sadly conceded a soft try to wing Waisake Naholo, but Coetzee soon thereafter got his second try, again from a driving maul.
At that stage the Lions were six points behind the Highlanders and just when they looked like they would take charge of a possible travel weary home team the Highlanders struck back with a score through centre Tei Walden – again from a Lions mistake.
The Lions though continued to fight and super-sub Marnus Schoeman scored his team’s fourth try with seven minutes to go to give the visitors hope they could pull off something special. But it was not to be as Highlanders No 10 Sopoaga slotted two late penalties to kill off the Lions’ charge.
Next up for De Bruin and Co is a fixture against the Brumbies at Ellis Park next Saturday.
Highlanders: Tries: Sopoaga, Coltman, Whitelock, Naholo, Walden; Conversions: Sopoaga (4); Penalties: Sopoaga (2)
Lions: Tries: Vorster, Coetzee (2), Schoeman; Conversions: Jantjies (2); Penalty: Jantjies