Lions (19) 44
Tries: Smith (2), Dyantyi, Marx (2), Skosan; Conversions: Jantjies (4); Penalties: Jantjies (2)
Waratahs (19) 26
Tries: Hanigan, Folau, Robertson, Gordon; Conversions: Foley (3)
The Lions will contest a third straight Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in Christchurch next Saturday.
It’ll be a repeat of the 2017 final and the first time the same two teams will be in action in the final game in successive years. Just this year the match will be played at home ground of the multiple and defending champions after the Lions came unstuck at home a year ago.
Warren Whiteley and his men will hope it is third time lucky after they also lost the 2016 final, to the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The Lions qualified for the final after coming from behind to beat the Waratahs here on Saturday afternoon. Thanks largely to a powerful display by the forwards the Lions hit back from being 14-0 down inside 10 minutes to triumph quite handsomely at the end.
Led once again by the magnificent Malcolm Marx, who scored two tries and was again a menace at the breakdowns, Kwagga Smith, who also got a brace of tries, and Franco Mostert the Lions simply out-played and out-powered their Australian opponents.
But the home team didn’t have it all their own way. The Tahs, especially their backs, asked plenty of the Lions and they played until the 80th minute; the likes of Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Curtis Rona keeping the home team on their toes throughout.
But the Lions’ experience came through in the end; their forwards laying the foundation for the victory and their patience rewarded at the end.
The Tahs enjoyed a sensational start by scoring tries through Ned Hanigan and Folau inside 10 minutes; the Lions slipping off several tackles in both scores.
But the Lions never panicked and the longer the game went on the more dominant they became. Their efforts, and patience, were rewarded when Smith bust through several tackles to get him team on the scoreboard and then in the 27th minute wing Aphiwe Dyantyi lit up his home ground, like he’d done earlier in the season.
In space, in his own half, he chipped the ball over the advancing Waratahs players, gathered it and showed tremendous pace to outstrip the cover defence to score a wonderful try. The Lions were just two points behind their opponents and then went ahead when Marx went over from a driving maul.
The Tahs though hit back on the stroke of half-time when prop Tom Robertson scored following a well-worked move at the front of a lineout. At 19-all, it was an even contest at the break.
And while the visitors started the second half in the same fashion as the first half, by throwing the ball around and running at the Lions from all parts, it was the home team who made the first telling move.
Elton Jantjies slotted a penalty to get his team ahead and then Marx got his second try, again via the driving maul. Replacement loose-forward Marnus Schoeman brought energy and pace to the game and the Lions continued to keep the Tahs pinned in their own half.
Smith then got his second try after some smart work at a ruck and at 34-19 up the Lions were on their way to the final. A late Jake Gordon try for the Tahs gave the visitors some hope towards the end of the match, but the Lions sealed the match with a late Courtnall Skosan try, who collected a well –executed cross-field kick by Jantjies.
It’s off to Christchurch then, a place few teams have gone to and won in recent times. The Lions though will always believe they’re in with a chance. And why not?