Late kick guides Lions to showdown with Hurricanes

Super Rugby
by AFP

Ruan Combrinck kicked a monster late penalty for the Lions as they scraped into the Super Rugby semi-finals on Saturday with a 23-21 win over the Sharks in Johannesburg.

The winger slotted the angled 58-metre kick at Ellis Park stadium under massive pressure to settle an all-South African quarter-final that proved much closer than expected.

The Lions' reward is a home semi-final next Saturday against defending champions the Hurricanes, who beat the Brumbies 35-16 in Canberra on Friday.

The Sharks, dismissed as no-hopers after a 17-point regular-season home loss to the Lions last weekend, built a 14-3 half-time lead and were one point ahead when Combrinck struck. 

Converting the penalty was a huge relief for the Springbok, who missed the June Test series against France due to injury, as he missed an easier earlier shot at goal.

On a bad afternoon for Lions' goal-kickers, fly-half Elton Jantjies succeeded with only two of six attempts before being substituted.

Sharks suffered severely from the harsh yellow-carding of lock Stephan Lewies for offside six minutes into the second half with the Lions scoring two tries while numerically advantaged.

Lions also had a second rower, Springbok Franco Mostert, sent to the sin bin, for intentionally collapsing a maul.

His 10 minutes off the field also proved costly as No. 8 Daniel du Preez scored a try which fly-half Curwin Bosch converted to put the Sharks 21-20 ahead with 13 minutes left.

The Durban outfit retained the narrow advantage until Combrinck showed once again what a superb long-distance goal-kicker he is. 

But when Sharks fullback Lwazi Mvovo watches replays of the lead-up to the crucial kick, he will be bitterly disappointed.

Comfortably gathering a long kick inside his half and under no pressure, he opted to run the ball and was dispossessed in midfield.

He then drifted into an offside position and the resultant penalty gave Combrinck the opportunity to win the match.

After Jantjies slotted a 10th-minute penalty, the Sharks took control and punished a midfield muddle by the home team to score a try through winger Kobus van Wyk.

Bosch booted a drop goal to stretch the lead to 8-3 and kicked two penalties in the final five minutes of the half for an 11-point advantage by the break.

With Lewies in the sin bin, Mostert and skipper and flanker Jaco Kriel scored unconverted tries while the kicking woes of Jantjies continued.    

After the Sharks were restored to 15 men, the Lions took a 20-14 lead with a quick tap penalty by Harold Vorster leading to fellow centre Lionel Mapoe scoring and Jantjies converting.

Sharks went ahead again just after Mostert was yellow-carded with Du Preez, one of two sons of Sharks coach Robert in the back row, barging over and Bosch converting.

Record seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders of New Zealand host compatriots Waikato Chiefs or the Western Stormers of South Africa in the other semi-final next weekend.


Lions 23

Tries: Mostert, Kriel, Mapoe

Con: Jantjies

Pens: Jantjies, Combrinck

Sharks 21

Tries: van Wyk, du Preez

Con: Bosch

Pens: Bosch 2

Drop goal: Bosch

Yellow cards: Lions: Mostert (65 minutes); Sharks: Stephan Lewies (46 minutes)