Lions’ road to the final wasn’t without a few bumpy patches
running coach Johan Ackermann opted to send a weakened side to Argentina – something that cost his team from possibly hosting the final in 2016. Nicolas Sanchez was excellent for his team, contributing 20 points, as they dominated the Lions.
The free- running Lions were at their attacking best and the big hero was wing Courtnall Skosan, who got four five-pointers in a dominant outing for the hosts. Janse van Rensburg got his fifth try of the season, while Malcolm Marx and Jaco Kriel also got onto the scoreboard. Reds No 10 Quade Cooper was red-carded for a high hit on Janse van Rensburg.
The Lions raced into a commanding 35-12 lead at the break on the back of quality performances by Malcolm Marx, Jaco Kriel and Franco Mostert, but managed to score only one more try in the second period. They were never troubled on the scoreboard, touching down six times; wing Madosh Tambwe getting two tries.
The first of three meetings between the teams during the season was as tight as it gets in a local derby. In a ding-dong battle, with plenty of aggres- sion and a yellow card or two, the Lions “saved” their day with a late Jaco Kriel try, four minutes from time. Curwin Bosch was outstanding at flyhalf for the visitors.
It was one of the most hyped matches of the competition, pitting the 2016 runners- up against a Stormers team that was coming off a win against the Chiefs. South Africa couldn’t wait. Sadly for Stormers fans, their team were humbled four tries to one by the visitors who dominated most aspects of the match.
The Lions’ philosophy of “play to the final whistle” came to the fore once again as they had to rely on a 77th minute penalty to get the better of the men from Argentina.
Ruan Ackermann scored a try moments earlier, with Jantjies slotting the touchline conversion to set up a thrilling finish. Luckily for the home team they got the better of the Jaguares this time.
Jantjies scored his team’s third – and, crucially, bonus point – try on the final whistle as the Lions kicked off their trip to Australia on the perfect note. It was far from the perfect performance though, but the tourists got the job done. All the Force could manage in a rather forgettable match were five penalties by Ian Prior.
Johan Ackermann’s demolition machine surged forward, exposing the multitude of problems in Australian rugby. The Rebels were no match for a Lions team smelling blood and the visitors ran in six tries and were awarded a penalty try, too. Ross Cronje enjoyed a memorable outing, as did Kwagga Smith, both of whom bagged tries.
This was without question one of the hardest fought games in the season. The Brumbies’ hold-on-to-the-ballat-all-costs approach and defensive style made attacking rugby very difficult and the Lions found themselves doing plenty of defending. Kwagga Smith’s sensational break-away try in the second half sealed the deal for the tourists.
Back on home soil the Lions piled the pressure on the Bulls and their coaching team with an emphatic victory at Ellis Park. Wing Ruan Combrinck, who was rushed into the side at the last minute, returned from a long injury layoff to score a brace, as his team ended up scoring seven wonderful tries. The Bulls were completely outplayed by a Lions team on a mission.
The men from Port Elizabeth were in a bit of a purple patch and playing some quality rugby so they were certainly not written off by their hosts. The Lions though proved far too strong, even though hooker Robbie Coetzee was given a red card before half-time. In the end the home team ran in eight tries, with Kwagga Smith grabbing two of them.
If ever a team on form dished out a hiding it was the Lions in their first match back since the June international break. Coach Johan Ackermann knew his Bok players were in good form and he duly sent them into battle against the visitors … after 80 minutes they’d run in 14 tries, with Ruan Combrinck getting three and Jaco Kriel and Kwagga Smith two each.
Earlier in the day the Hurricanes had beaten the Crusaders to open the door for the Lions to finish top of the pile and give them home advantage, but they had to beat the Sharks first. In a fairly dour affair (the Sharks weren’t really chasing the win as they looked to avoid a trip to Christchurch for a quarter-final) the Lions came up tops, scoring three tries.
The Lions were far from their best, but the Sharks were very much in top form. It was game three between the teams in the season and the visitors got their tactics spot on and came oh so close to causing a major upset. Jantjies missed several kicks at goal which put his team under pressure, but Ruan Combrinck landed a 55m monster in the 78th minute to win it for the Lions.
Fans won’t forget this match for a very long time. The Lions were down and out after 30 minutes, trailing 22-3 and being played off their feet. But a Jacques van Rooyen try on the stroke of half-time gave the home team hope and they came out in the final 40 minutes and blew the Canes away. In a stunning comeback the Lions scored 41 points to seven in the final 42 minutes.