THE TIGHT 5

It was a dra­matic semi-fi­nal en­counter be­tween the Lions and Hur­ri­cans at El­lis Park on Sat­ur­day. Here, rugby writer JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN takes a look back at the flash­points as Fort El­lis builds to­ward host­ing its first ever Su­perRugby fi­nal.

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

EL­TON JAN­TJIES

Af­ter a week of cop­ping plenty of crit­i­cism – much of it un­jus­ti­fied and over the top – the Lions No 10 si­lenced all the crit­ics with a qual­ity per­for­mance in the scin­til­lat­ing semi-fi­nal win over the Hur­ri­canes. He scored a try, slot­ted two penal­ties and four con­ver­sions and missed just two kicks at goal. But Jan­tjies also ran strongly with the ball in hand, and he asked more and more ques­tions the longer the game went on. By the 80th minute he’d matched, if not bested, the highly-rated Beau­den Bar­rett’s show­ing.

WHAT A COME­BACK

Be hon­est, who thought it was game over af­ter 30 min­utes when the Canes went 22-3 up? The vis­i­tors were in com­plete con­trol of the match against the Lions, boss­ing all de­part­ments and seem­ingly toy­ing with the Lions; an­other 50-17 was on the cards, right? No one ex­pected the fightback, but what a turn-around it was. From the 40th minute the Lions would score 41 points to the Canes’ seven – ar­guably one of the big­gest come­backs in the com­pe­ti­tion, if not the big­gest.

WEL­COME TO FORT EL­LIS

The Lions have now gone 15 matches un­beaten in Su­per Rugby at home. Iron­i­cally, the last time they were beaten at home, in front of their own fans, was on April 30 last year, by the Hur­ri­canes – the team they beat on Sat­ur­day. In this time Jo­han Ack­er­mann’s men have got the bet­ter of highly-rated out­fits such as the Canes, High­landers and Cru­saders, who they face in the fi­nal on Sat­ur­day. With very vo­cal sup­port­ers, the sta­dium has be­come a big ally for the team.

HERE COME THE ‘SADERS

The men from Christchurch in New Zea­land will fea­ture in their 12th Su­per Rugby fi­nal on Sat­ur­day, an in­di­ca­tion of how they have dom­i­nated the com­pe­ti­tion which is now in its 21st year. They beat the Chiefs in their semi-fi­nal and, like the Lions, they have lost only once dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son. They are sev­en­times win­ners, the last ti­tle com­ing in 2008, and have been run­ners-up on a fur­ther four oc­ca­sions. Favourites for the fi­nal then?

OF­FI­CIALLY, WE NEED NEUTRALS

Not for one sec­ond do I think Jaco Peyper favoured the Lions in their semi-fi­nal – even if some of the Ki­wis be­lieve he did – but for the good of the game and to en­sure there is no thought of such things it is im­per­a­tive that San­zaar name an Aus­tralian of­fi­ci­at­ing team for the fi­nal. An­gus Gard­ner will be the favourite to take the whis­tle af­ter a good year and he will de­serve be­ing put in charge. Please, let there be no point­ing fingers at any of­fi­cials come Sat­ur­day evening.

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