JOHANNESBURG – With the impressive Malcolm Marx leading from the front the Lions powered their way into a third straight Super Rugby semi-final after getting past the tricky, but ultimately outplayed, Jaguares here on Saturday.
Springbok hooker Marx was in stunning form as he helped the Lions book a last-four spot against the Waratahs at the same venue this coming Saturday.
The Australians were surprise 30-23 winners of their quarter-final against the Highlanders earlier in the day.
All four home quarter-finalists won their respective matches; the Crusaders and Hurricanes going through from their games to face each other in the first semi-final this coming weekend.
Marx was at the heart of the Lions performance, carrying strongly, making plenty of tackles and stealing numerous balls and winning penalties at the breakdown.
Not far behind was lock Franco Mostert, who also, again, gave his everything over the course of the 80 minutes.
At the back, Elton Jantjies ran the show well, with Lionel Mapoe and the outside backs always a threat.
After a slow start against the men from Argentina, who went 6-0 up inside 10 minutes, the Lions found their groove.
And after changing sides 24-9 up never looked like losing, even if they were given a scare at the beginning of the second half.
Tries by Ruan Combrinck – after collecting a cross-field kick by Jantjies – in the eighth minute and Harold Vorster, who benefited after the ball had twice been hacked forward by the Lions and bounced horribly for the retreating Jaguares defenders, in the 15th minute set the Lions on their way.
They were two opportunistic tries for the home side, but they were also well-taken scores.
And when Marx intercepted a Jaguares pass on the halfway line in the 27th minute to run in untouched and give his team a handy 24-6 lead, there was no looking back by the Lions.
At halftime, all the visitors could show for their efforts were three penalties by Nicolas Sanchez, but that would change after the break.
In a matter of 10 minutes the Jaguares had pulled to within four points of the Lions after scoring tries by wing Bautista Delguy and flank Pablo Matera.
But any thoughts of the Argentines shocking the Lions – as the Waratahs had done to the Highlanders – were dispelled with an Andries Coetzee try around the 60th minute that took the home team into a 34-23 lead.
A snap drop goal by Jantjies and a late penalty by the flyhalf saw the Lions into a strong and uncatchable position, which they would hang onto until the final whistle.
It was a step too far for the Jagaures, who were into their third week of their trip to South Africa, while for the Lions anything, and everything, is now again possible.
Its Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final in Johannesburg next week. Get your tickets today. pic.twitter.com/H0Dt6k26X4
If they get past the Waratahs this weekend they either travel to Christchurch for a final against the multiple and defending champions, the Crusaders, or host the Hurricanes at home, should they topple the Cantabrians this weekend.
HIGHLIGHTS: 2018 Super Rugby Quarter-Finals: Lions v Jaguares
After weathering an early storm the @LionsRugbyCo come back with a strong performance to earn a well deserved 40-23 victory against the @JaguaresARG and progress to the semi-finals.#SuperRugby #finalsfooty #LIOvJAG pic.twitter.com/T3PlAzf8mx
Lions 40 – Tries: Ruan Combrinck, Harold Vorster, Malcolm Marx, Andries Coetzee. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (3). Drop goal: Jantjies (1).
Jaguares 23 – Tries: Bautista Delguy, Pablo Matera. Conversions: Nicolas Sanchez (2). Penalties: Sanchez (3).