JOHANNESBURG - The Lions have got their home final!
And after that sensational come-from-the-dead victory yesterday against the defending champions, the Hurricanes, who will now bet against the Lions going all the way? They will face the multiple champions, the Crusaders, in Saturday’s Super Rugby final - at Ellis Park.
Joburg can start preparing for their biggest rugby match since, arguably, the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.
A year ago the Lions whipped the Crusaders and Highlanders at home to qualify for the final game, against the same team they beat here yesterday, but they had to travel to Wellington in New Zealand to contest that game.
They went down, but they’ve now got a chance to make up for that lost opportunity - and that is to host the ‘Saders on their home field. And having now gone 16 matches without defeat in Joburg, the Lions will surely start as favourites.
Yesterday was the first time this season the Lions had faced New Zealand opposition and for the whole first half it looked as if the home team would be run off their feet.
The Lions looked like a deer in the spotlights, rushed and under pressure and not knowing what to do. They were simply outplayed, out-muscled and out-thought. And they made error after error.
It looked to be the disaster many had predicted. Nothing went the Lions’ way - they kicked poorly, they forced passes and they missed tackles. They also created no opportunities of their own.
Before they knew it they were 15-3 down after the Canes had scored tries through TJ Perenara and Wes Goosen.
They were bossing the game and when Ardie Savea scored to help his team into a 22-3 lead after half an hour it didn’t look at all good for the hosts.
Their only highlight up to that stage was the two line-out steals in quick succession by Franco Mostert on the Lions’ tryline - and crucial they would prove to be.
After moving down-field Jacques van Rooyen scored from close range on the stroke of half-time to give his side a little hope at the break, and then when the game restarted the Lions simply lifted their intensity and made the Hurricanes question themselves.
The turnaround was dramatic and unexpected.
Perhaps it was the team talk by Johan Ackermann, or the fact the players realised they were not going to go down without a fight, or perhaps it was the Canes who ran out of steam.
Whatever it was the Lions need to bottle it and keep it for the final.
Ross Cronjé, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies and Kwagga Smith all scored second half five-pointers in a sensational display of desire and attacking rugby.
Where the Canes asked the majority of the questions in the first half the Lions asked all the questions in the second half.
All the visitors could show for their efforts in the second spell was a try against the run of play by Ngani Laumape. The Lions won the last 40-odd minutes 41-7.
After their struggles against the Sharks in back-to-back games and their tired performance in the first half here yesterday, the Lions seem to have found their mojo again, and at just the right time.
The Crusaders on Saturday will be looking for their first title since 2008, while the Lions will hope they can become South Africa’s second Super Rugby title winners, after the Bulls, who have won the competition three times.