LIONS HEAD TO FI­NALS

CityPress - - Sport - CITY PRESS COR­RE­SPON­DENT sports@city­press.co.za

The Lions pro­duced the kind of comeback that had “cham­pi­ons” writ­ten all over it when they clawed their way back from 22-10 to win their Su­per Rugby semi­fi­nal against de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons the Hur­ri­canes at El­lis Park yes­ter­day.

Johan Ack­er­mann’s men changed tack half­way through the game to book them­selves a place in their second suc­ces­sive fi­nal, against the Cru­saders at home next week, af­ter beat­ing the Hur­ri­canes – who beat them in last year’s fi­nal – for the first time since 2007.

In a per­for­mance that be­gan with hints of a hang­over from their last eight games against the Sharks, the Lions were im­pres­sive as they ar­rested the slide, thanks to a team ef­fort in which a lot of good moves by a lot of play­ers cul­mi­nated in a fa­mous win against a team they have beaten only once in 11 pre­vi­ous out­ings.

For all that team work, some play­ers did put up their hands more than oth­ers, no­tably for­wards Franco Mostert, Jacques van Rooyen, Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith, and backs Ross Cronjé, El­ton Jan­tjies, Court­nall Skosan and Ruan Com­brinck.

Mostert, Marx and Van Rooyen shone when the Lions were chas­ing the game, the hall­mark of their con­tri­bu­tion be­ing their self­less­ness in avail­ing them­selves for yet another carry, with the for­mer also a nui­sance at the line-outs.

Smith grew as the game wore on, es­pe­cially in the phys­i­cal ex­changes, and was re­warded with a try.

Cronjé’s game was a typ­i­cal right-thing-at-the-right­time per­for­mance, while Jan­tjies missed only two of his eight kicks at goal and scored a try for a per­sonal points haul of 19.

There may have been no tries or dra­matic last-gasp penal­ties for Skosan and Com­brinck, but the for­mer was a force in de­fence and the lat­ter’s how­itzer boot came in handy in the tac­ti­cal kick­ing bat­tle.

The early ex­changes of the game, one of those kickathons, gave the im­pres­sion that the two freerun­ning teams in the com­pe­ti­tion were deter­mined to tighten things up a lit­tle by play­ing fi­nals rugby.

But it wasn’t long be­fore the rem­nants of the Lions’ loose game in the quar­ter­fi­nal against the Sharks con­spired to hand the vis­i­tors the lead as early as the sev­enth minute of the game.

Lions fly half Jan­tjies was in the half-gap when his at­tempted off­load failed to find half­back part­ner Cronjé, with the lat­ter’s op­po­site num­ber TJ Per­e­nara grub­ber­ing the ball all the way to the try line to score.

The rea­son for that was the Lions’ sheer strug­gle at the time to gain yardage in col­li­sions, which ended up with the ball-car­rier feel­ing he needed to do more by wrig­gling over the ad­van­tage line, of­ten lead­ing to mis­takes.

But the big­ger is­sue was that the Lions had once again cho­sen the wrong game plan for the second game in suc­ces­sion, the folly this time be­ing their at­tempt to out-New Zealand a Kiwi side, to coin a phrase, which meant the vis­i­tors were right at home play­ing bas­ket­ball in­stead of rugby.

Yet three things saved pro­ceed­ings for the hosts from that point on­wards: scor­ing on both sides of half-time (through Van Rooyen and Cronjé); chang­ing their tac­tics; and Canes fly half Beau­den Bar­rett’s umpteenth yel­low card for a pro­fes­sional foul.

Usu­ally, scor­ing just be­fore and af­ter half-time is the pre­serve of New Zealand teams, but the Lions did just that to wrest back mo­men­tum.

Com­ing out of the half-time break, the Lions im­proved their ac­cu­racy in gen­eral, specif­i­cally at the break­downs. They also cap­i­talised on the travel-weary Canes’ tired­ness at al­ti­tude by up­ping the tempo.

They were then given a leg up by Bar­rett’s sin­bin­ning, which may well have been con­tro­ver­sial as it wasn’t clear if the fly half knew what he was do­ing when he dragged the ball away from the ruck with his legs while rolling away af­ter a tackle.

Be that as it may, it was a pe­riod that de­cided the game be­cause the Lions scored 10 points from a Jan­tjies penalty for the of­fence and a con­verted Harold Vorster try.

PHOTO: KIM LUDBROOK / EPA

HIGH RISE Lions’ Franco Mostert and Hur­ri­canes’ Mark Ab­bott in ac­tion dur­ing a li­ne­out in yes­ter­day’s Su­per Rugby semi­fi­nal at El­lis Park Sta­dium. The Lions will host the Cru­saders in the fi­nal at the same venue on Satur­day

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