JOHANNESBURG - There were a few key factors during the season that helped the Lions march into a home Super Rugby final, against the Crusaders at Ellis Park on Saturday. Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights 10 pivotal moments, which have contributed to getting the Lions into back-to-back finals
For two seasons he shone for the Lions in the Currie Cup, but Sevens commitments prevented him from playing Super Rugby - until this year. And boy, has he been a revelation! From off the bench or as a starter, the slightly-built flank has been all heart and desire. Smith goes into the final having scored eight tries and been Man of the Match no less than four times. Getting him involved from the start was a master-stroke by the coach.
One of the big highlights of the Lions’ journey has been the performance of No 10 Jantjies. He showed no signs of the indifferent form he produced while with the Springboks last year, and played with authority and maturity. His all-round contribution played a major part in a number of the Lions’ victories.
Edging the Jaguares
The Jaguares arrived in Johannesburg confident of another upset, as they’d done in Buenos Aires - beating a weakened Lions 36-24. In the return match it looked as if they were again going to topple the Lions; they led 21-14 with 10 minutes to play. But a Ruan Ackermann try and touchline conversion, and 77th minute penalty by Jantjies saw the Lions home, 24-21.
Ruan Combrinck returned from injury against the Bulls in spectacular fashion, scoring two tries, but it was his one-minute “show” against the Sharks in the quarter-finals that will be remembered for years to come. Elton Jantjies had had a rare off-day with the boot, missing four kicks at goal, so up stepped Combrinck who’d missed a sitter earlier too, to land a 55m kick with two minutes to go to win the game 23-21. That’s BMT.
In life.you dont always get a 2nd chance..but God has Blessed us with one!! #AudienceOfOne
It was always going to be crucial to get off to a winning start and the Lions did that, but only just. Their trip to Bloemfontein to take on the new Currie Cup champions, under the guidance of Franco Smith, was always going to be a big ask. The Lions struggled and looked to be heading for a defeat until Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored a match-winning try four minutes from time.
Sharks clash number one
Over the course of the season the Lions and Sharks would end up meeting three times and while their third match was the most dramatic of all, the first clash at Ellis Park was also a big one for the home team. In a ding-dong battle, where no team really got the better of the other and where Curwin Bosch put on a quality kicking display, the Lions scored a 76th minute try by Jaco Kriel to stay unbeaten. It was a massive victory.
Win at Newlands
The match between the two form teams, the Lions and Stormers, on April 15 in Cape Town had every rugby fan in South Africa glued to their screens. The Lions were unbeaten and the Stormers were coming off a 34-26 win against the Chiefs the week before. The Lions bossed the game, scored four tries to the home team’s one and showed South Africa they were still the best outfit in the country.
The Lions started the season without first-choice props Julian Redelinghuys and Dylan Smith, while Ruan Combrinck was missing and Warwick Tecklenburg had hung up his boots. Howard Mnisi was out for the season and back-up No 10 Marnitz Boshoff had left the union, while Jaco van der Walt was injured. Halfway through Rohan Janse van Rensburg was out too, and later Warren Whiteley would also see his season end. But the Lions’ depth carried them through the setbacks.
Johan Ackermann’s men were well set when they headed to Australia for three matches in late April. They started with a win against the Force (24-15) and followed that up with a 47-10 hammering of the Rebels. Then came the biggie - against the Brumbies. In a game where they hardly saw any ball and were asked to make tackle after tackle, they incredibly still emerged 13-6 victors after a monumental defensive display.
Resetting the score
At 22-3 down to the Hurricanes just before the break, the Lions were pretty much dead and buried. They’d “escaped” against the Sharks the week before, but in the semi-finals, against the defending champions there was no way back, right? Wrong. In just over 40 minutes, after coach Ackermann had told the Lions to reset the score to 0-0 at halftime, the home team scored 41 points to the Canes’ seven to win 44-29 in a spectacular comeback.