JOHANNESBURG – A superb kicking display by Elton Jantjies and a strong second-half showing helped the Lions to an important Super Rugby win against the Highlanders at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon.
In a ding-dong battle where no-one really got the better of the other, Jantjies slotted every kick he was asked to make to help his side get across the finish line.
In all, he knocked over five conversions and a penalty for a personal haul of 13 points in a flawless display, while the Highlanders squandered several points through errant goal-kicking.
Their seventh win in 12 matches by the Lions keeps them very much in the hunt in the South African Conference, while the Highlanders’ record now reads played 13 and won five.
The big stars for the Lions were captain Malcolm Marx, who stood in for the injured Warren Whiteley and delivered a knockout performance, and he was closely followed by Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink, Marvin Orie and Jantjies.
While the Lions will be pleased they bagged the win and the points, there will still be concerns about their defence and at times sloppy play inside their own half.
As has been the case all season, the Lions were slow out of the blocks after they conceded a try as early as the fifth minute.
Highlanders wing Patelisio Tomkinson went over after one of his teammates caught the Lions napping with a quick-tap penalty.
But the Lions took the lead not long after when Andries Coetzee finished off a nice attacking move by the home team.
Jantjies made the initial break before offloading to Smith, who in turn fed Coetzee.
The see-saw affair continued when Highlanders lock Tom Franklin scored his team’s second try five minutes from the break, and then on the stroke of halftime, flanker Smith crossed for the first of his two tries to help the Lions into a two-point lead at the break.
The Highlanders though would have been frustrated that they butchered a good few try-scoring chances in the first half.
They were certainly the better team on the park and attacked with vigour and pace, while the Lions looked a bit flat-footed and directionless.
But they stretched their lead to nine points soon after the restart when Smith got his second try after taking a quick-tap penalty after a period of good attack by the hosts, but the Highlanders hit back almost immediately through wing Jordan Hyland, who went in at the corner.
Visiting fullback Matt Faddes then got his try – after he’d threatened to go in during the first half – to give his side a one-point lead midway through the second half. Jantjies then slotted a penalty to again put the Lions up, and when replacement back Shaun Reynolds went over in the 71st minute, it seemed all over.
The Highlanders, though, who contributed greatly to an entertaining match, had other thoughts and they scored a fifth try through flyhalf Josh Ioane to set up a thrilling final five minutes.
Lions wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and Courtnall Skosan then combined brilliantly late on to seal the deal, the latter man getting his team’s fifth try to secure the win.
FULL-TIME | LIONS vs HIGHLANDERS— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) May 18, 2019
The Lions secured a gritty victory against the Highlanders in a ten-try thriller at Johannesburg.
Match Centre: https://t.co/KimNwO039H#SuperRugby #LIOvHIG pic.twitter.com/Ol6W3NbHLG
Lions 38 – Tries: Andries Coetzee, Kwagga Smith (2), Shaun Reynolds, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (5). Penalty: Jantjies (1).
Highlanders 29 – Tries: Patelisio Tomkinson, Tom Franklin, Jordan Hyland, Matt Faddes, Josh Ioane. Conversions: Ioane (1), Daniel Hollinshead (1).@jacq_west