42 v 25
The Lions booked their place in the Super Rugby semi-finals on Saturday after they saw off the Crusaders, winning 42-25 in Johannesburg.
Prevailing by six tries to three they were deserved victors in the last-eight meeting, as they now wait to see if they will face the Stormers or the Highlanders.
Courtnall Skosan, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Malcolm Marx, Ruan Combrinck and Ross Cronje scored the five-pointers while in reply the Crusaders’ try-scorers were Ryan Crotty, Mitchell Drummond and Ben Volavola.
The Lions enjoyed much the better of the first-half and went in 22-10 in front thanks to tries from Skosan, Janse van Rensburg and Marx.
They came out firing, no doubt the team was fresh from their week off, and hit the ground running on two minutes when Skosan broke from halfway to beat Crusaders full-back Israel Dagg to the left corner. Elton Jantjies was off-target with his conversion so it remained 5-0.
Sensing an early chance to grab a stranglehold of matters the Lions went for broke on six minutes as they kicked for the corner. And it paid off as, with Crusaders lock Luke Romano, having just been sent to the sin-bin for swimming up the maul, Janse van Rensburg scored.
At 12-0 the Lions were cruising and things got even better on 15 minutes when Kieran Read was penalised at a ruck. That made it 15-0.
But, with Romano now back on the field, the Crusaders crucially managed to get a foothold in the match and put themselves on the scoreboard soon after, as Lions lock Andries Ferreira failed to roll away quickly enough. Richie Mo’unga did the rest from in front for 15-3.
Johnny McNicholl was being used to great effect at this point and after sustained pressure, finally it told after 33 minutes when Crotty dotted the ball onto the base of a post to score. Mo’unga had an easy job of making it 15-10 and it looked like the visitors were on top.
This though is a different Lions side to years gone by and at the perfect time they struck back, Marx going over from a driving lineout right on the hooter to make it 22-10 with a superb Jantjies conversion. In truth it was a cushion the Johannesburg side richly deserved.
After the interval that soon became 22-13 as the Crusaders started the brighter with a penalty, with Drummond on in place of veteran Andy Ellis at scrum-half in an attempt to change their fortunes in the contest.
Still two scores in front, the period approaching the hour mark was going to be a big test for the Lions and they managed it well. In fact they moved back into a 12-point lead when Jantjies slotted a drop-goal on 53 minutes while Craig Joubert was playing a penalty advantage.
A two-score lead became three on 62 minutes as David Havili was penalised for not rolling away and Jantjies did the rest, with the away side now needing something out of the top drawer in the last 18 minutes to keep their Super Rugby season alive for another week.
It didn’t take long for them to respond as seconds after Jantjies’ penalty Mo’unga set up Drummond for a run-in under the posts off a high kick. That made it 28-20 with the conversion and it was game on in Johannesburg, with the Lions crucially still having a slight buffer.
But with 11 minutes remaining the Lions put one foot into the semi-finals when Lionel Mapoe broke from his 22 to halfway before Combrinck switched and raced to the posts. That made it 35-20 in a tough blow to the visitors, who were surely heading out of the competition.
Each team scored a try apiece before the end as the floodgates opened following a long season as first replacement scrum-half Cronje went over after collecting a kick ahead by Mapoe and then another substitute, Volavola, finished off a consolation score for the Crusaders.
The Lions then march on to the last four as Johan Ackermann’s selection decision of last week is now surely laid to rest, with another home game coming up for them in the semi-finals. In this form they will be tough to beat.
Tries: Skosan, Janse van Rensburg, Marx, Combrinck, Cronje
Cons: Jantjies 4
Pens: Jantjies 2
Drop Goal: Jantjies
Tries: Crotty, Drummond, Volavola
Cons: Mo’unga 2
Pens: Mo’unga 2
Yellow Card: Romano
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylon Smith
Replacements: 16 Armand Van Der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques Van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Jaco Van Der Walt/Sylvian Mahuza
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Jone Macilai, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read(c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Kieron Fonotia
Date: Saturday, July 23
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Rasta Rasivhenge
TMO: Marius Jonke