Highlanders down gallant but off-key Lions
The Lions coughed up an inevitable third consecutive Super Rugby tour defeat when they were felled 39-27 by the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.
With the Lions losing‚ South Africa’s round-robin involvement from an Australasian touring perspective came to an end on a sour note.
All four South African teams only have two wins in Australia and New New Zealand to show for their efforts.
While Australia’s losing streak against New Zealand teams is much talked about‚ South Africa’s poor touring record this season has gone under the radar.
This was a game the Lions could have targeted after travelling from South Africa but winning in New Zealand is proving to be a hard task.
The Highlanders held a 19-15 half-time lead owed to a blistering 15-minute opening spell by Aaron Mauger’s side.
They took a 14-0 lead through converted tries from Lima Sopoaga and Liam Coltman while the Lions went through the defensive motions.
The SA side missed 10 tackles in the first 20 minutes and didn’t look like a team that wanted to compete for a full 80.
This was a bruised Highlanders side that was there for the taking after losing to the Sharks the week before‚ and who also had to travel back across the Indian Ocean.
While an Elton Jantjies penalty gave the Lions their first points of the game‚ Luke Whitelock’s 35th-minute try stung the visitors into action.
They responded with tries from inside centre Harold Vorster in the 39th minute‚ while hooker Robbie Coetzee added a second three minutes after the hooter to give the Lions a veneer of respectability.
The Highlanders weren’t keen on letting the Lions fight back and scored four minutes after the restart through Waisake Naholo.
Syws de Bruin’s side refused to spit the dummy and scored through Coetzee five minutes later from a rolling maul.
The Lions‚ though‚ were their own worst enemies as the final pass hardly went to hand while some 50/50 decisions didn’t go their way.
What the Lions had in tenacity‚ they did not have in skill and temperament as Teihorangi Walden rounded off a brilliant move in the 64th minute to give the Highlanders a 33-20 lead.
That lead was narrowed to six points through Marnus Schoeman’s 74th-minute try‚ which left a lingering feeling of regret through the two conversions Jantjies missed in the first half.
However‚ Schoeman turned villain when he conceded a ruck penalty two minutes later that allowed the Highlanders to stretch the lead to an unassailable nine points.
That ended the gallant Lions fightback but the Highlanders were the better side with Sopoaga adding another penalty to add insult to injury.