Lucky Lions lurk as threat to Kiwis
Hurricanes fans must wish Lions right wing Ruan Combrinck had never been tutored on how to swing his right foot into a rugby ball off a kicking tee.
Because if Combrinck had missed his 55m penalty in the 77th minute of the Super Rugby quarterfinal against the Sharks in Johannesburg yester morning, the Hurricanes would be binning the sleeping pills and preparing to host a semifinal in Wellington.
Instead the Canes, who transferred to Sydney following their 35-16 victory over the Brumbies on Friday night in the hope they would meet the Sharks at the Cake Tin, have been forced to spend 14 hours locked inside an airliner ahead of their semi against the Lions in Johannesburg next weekend.
The Sharks appeared to be destined for an upset victory at Ellis Park when they led 21-20 with just minutes to play, before conceding a penalty just inside the Lions half.
So up ambled Combrinck, who had earlier missed an easier penalty and taken over the kicking because Elton Jantjies, who had a miserable game and missed four shots at goal, had been replaced.
Combrinck didn’t fail, earning his side a 23-21 win. His non-playing team-mates on the substitutes bench almost collapsed with joy. A relieved Jantjies, no doubt feeling stink about his awful day with the boot, literally flopped to the turf after the fulltime whistle.
‘‘There were a lot of grey-hair moments and I was thinking ’this can’t be the way I am going to end my time with the Lions’,’’ Lions coach Johan Ackermann, who will later join English club Gloucester, said.
Given the Sharks had filled the eighth and last qualification spot in the finals, while the Lions were ranked No 1, the expectation was that the home side would easily account for the men from Durban.
‘‘The whole 80 minutes wasn’t good enough,’’ Ackermann added. ‘‘We were lucky to get away with the victory. We have to be better.’’
The Chiefs, who had flanker Sam Cane yellow carded for a high tackle on the hour mark, had to rely on the accurate goal kicking of Damian McKenzie, who succeeded with four penalties, and a late try by replacement wing Shaun Stevenson to beat the Stormers 17-11 in Cape Town.
Now the Chiefs must fly back to New Zealand, where they will meet the Crusaders in their semi in Christchurch next Saturday night.
Both teams made far too mistakes in a half-filled Newlands stadium, making for an underwhelming occasion.
‘‘It probably wasn’t the prettiest game, but you have to be able to handle the pressure moments,’’ Chiefs first five-eighth Aaron Cruden said. ‘‘We would rather win ugly than lose pretty.’’
The defeat marked the Stormers’ eighth loss in nine finals appearances.
The Crusaders accumulated all of their points in the first half, gliding home 17-0 over the disappointing Highlanders in atrocious conditions in Christchurch on Saturday night.
It was a demolition job. Front rowers Joe Moody and Codie Taylor scored tries and first-five Richie Mo’unga added the extras with his boot.
‘‘They were just too good for us tonight, they were too dominant up front,’’ Highlanders coach Tony Brown, who will leave the club to take up a new job with the Japan national team, lamented. ‘‘We just gave away too many penalties in that first half, that gave them all the territory and put us under pressure.’’