Magnificent Lions storm into semis
The Lions purred with intent, especially in the first half, as they surged into the semi-finals of Super Rugby for the third straight year on Saturday.
They will go in search of a third straight appearance in the final when they play the New South Wales Waratahs at Ellis Park next weekend.
Earlier in the day the Waratahs downed the Highlanders in a nailbiter in Sydney.
While the home team impressed for large swathes of the first half, their performance was far from unblemished. They will lament their effort after kick-off, as well as after the restart.
Again however it took a colossal contribution from hooker Malcolm Marx and the polished boot of Elton Jantjies to greatly advance the Lions’ cause.
The Lions even altered their methods to get the job done against a team full of energy and urgency.
They regularly eschew opportunities to kick penalties at goal, but on Saturday in the furnace of a die-or-die quarter-final they took aim through flyhalf Jantjies.
The Lions had to tower above the Jaguares in the line-out to set their rolling maul in motion and they had to more than stand their ground in the scrum.
With the spectre of knockout rugby upon the Lions each of the matches following the league stages are potentially the last for the players departing at the end of the campaign.
Tighthead prop Ruan Dreyer has developed into one of the Lions’ more reliable campaigners over recent seasons and he warmed to the challenge of coming to grips with one of the competition’s more combative packs.
The Lions were well and truly in the ascendancy in the scrum. It was from a solid scrum around the halfway line that Harold Vorster grubbered into space, before a speeding Aphiwe Dyantyi toed the ball further.
The usually Emiliano Boffelli couldn’t master the bouncing ball and it sat up kindly into Vorster’s hands for an easy touch down.
Flank Cyle Brink, who has apparently committed to remain with the franchise flew into a bone shuddering tackle in which he seemed to come off second best in the 20th minute.
After some treatment he returned and continued to make impactful contributions. Out wide too his presence has been felt of late but he was to play no part in the second half.
If Brink was direct in rearranging the Jaguares defence, then his replacement Marnus Schoeman was like a pinball.
He bounced out of tackles just as the Jaguares were starting to get a grip on proceedings after the break.
Fullback Andries Coetzee also made impactful surges. Marx, however was their biggest hitter. He left an indelible mark on proceedings, at times even in unconventional manner.
His intercept from just inside the Jaguares half in the 28th minute flat footed the visitors leaving him with an unhindered 40-odd metre run to the tryline.
He scores most of his tries from the back of a maul, so this one must have felt special.
Marx again made a telling contribution on the deck in turning over possession. Few hookers, if any, currently leave an imprint so large on a rugby match as Marx.
The Jaguares didn’t go quietly. They impressed with their, at times, intricate passing game in the first half but had little to show for it in the face of resilient Lions’ defence.
In fact, it was the home team’s stout defence that won the day in the second half.
LIONS (24) 40
Tries: Ruan Combrinck, Harold Vorster, Malcolm Marx, Andries Coetzee. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (3). Drop goal: Jantjies.
JAGUARES (9) 23
Tries: Bautista Delguy, Pablo Matera. Conversions: Nicolás Sanchez (2). Penalties: Sanchez (3).