Lions, Cru­saders stay on course for Su­per show­down

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Lead­ing con­tenders the Golden Lions and Can­ter­bury Cru­saders are one game away from play­ing off for this sea­son’s Su­per Rugby ti­tle af­ter con­trast­ing vic­to­ries this week­end. South Africa’s Lions, who fin­ished top of the reg­u­lar sea­son stand­ings, needed a huge late penalty goal from Ruan Com­brinck to scrape home 23-21 over the Coastal Sharks in Jo­han­nes­burg.

The Lions will face a New Zealand team for the first time this sea­son, against de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Welling­ton Hur­ri­canes, in next week­end’s semi-fi­nals. If the Lions win they will host the fi­nal on Au­gust 5. The Cru­saders, bid­ding for their eighth Su­per Rugby crown, grounded out a 17-0 win over the Otago High­landers in driv­ing rain to reach the last four. The Cru­saders have to ne­go­ti­ate an al­lNew Zealand semi-fi­nal against the Waikato Chiefs to ad­vance to the fi­nal.

Shaun Steven­son scored a try four min­utes from time to seal a 17-11 win for the Chiefs over South Africa’s West­ern Storm­ers in Cape Town to claim their semi-fi­nal spot. The Lions, beaten only once this sea­son, were fac­ing a shock elim­i­na­tion at El­lis Park un­til Com­brinck landed an an­gled 58-me­tre kick un­der mas­sive pres­sure to squeeze home over the Sharks.

The Sharks, dis­missed as no-hop­ers af­ter a 17-point reg­u­lar-sea­son home loss to the Lions the pre­vi­ous week­end, built a 14-3 half­time lead and were one point ahead when Com­brinck struck. The Cru­saders scored two tries in wild weather to over­come the High­landers in the South Is­land derby.

“It was hugely sat­is­fy­ing,” coach Scott Robert­son said. “It was a fi­nal, that was what we talked about be­cause the High­landers are bet­ter than a seventh-placed team. We knew we had to treat it as we did, and front up.” The re­sult keeps alive the Cru­saders’ dream of adding to their record seven Su­per Rugby ti­tles, their most re­cent suc­cess com­ing in 2008. The Hur­ri­canes scored 20 unan­swered points in a dom­i­nant sec­ond-half to keep alive their ti­tle hopes and end Aus­tralia’s ACT Brumbies bid in Can­berra. Welling­ton were re­lent­less, overcoming a 16-15 half-time deficit in a 35-16 vic­tory to reach the semi-fi­nals.

“We knew they would come out with a lot of emo­tion and in­tent and we worked hard in the first-half and came away with build­ing pres­sure in the sec­ond-half,” All Black ace fly­half Beau­den Bar­rett said. It was an emo­tional come­back to rugby for can­cer sur­vivor Chris­tian Leali­ifano, who came on in the sec­ond-half as a re­place­ment for the Brumbies. Hur­ri­canes skip­per TJ Per­e­nara paid a post­match trib­ute to Leali­ifano: “I want to con­grat­u­late Chris­tian for com­ing back.

“Ev­ery­one fo­cuses on the game and the re­sult, but when men like that come back with the fight he’s had, it’s hum­bling to be around him and he’s in­spir­ing not just to his team but to the rest of the rugby com­mu­nity.” The Hur­ri­canes’ big­gest win in Can­berra ex­tended New Zealand teams’ record over Aus­tralian op­po­si­tion to 26-0 this sea­son.

The Chiefs sur­vived some late pres­sure from the Storm­ers be­fore hang­ing on for vic­tory in South Africa. Sub­sti­tute winger Steven­son gath­ered a long pass from skip­per and fly-half Aaron Cru­den to cross the line un­op­posed for the Chiefs’ clinch­ing try. “We are a team of warriors with a clear game plan that we try to ex­e­cute when­ever and wher­ever we play,” All Black Cru­den said.

“The Cru­saders in Christchurch is go­ing to be a tough test, but we can beat any Su­per Rugby team any­where on our day.”

Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions in ac­tion

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