Elton Jantjies powers Golden Lions past Highlanders into Super 18 title decider
South Africans beat defending champions 42-30 to set up Wellington showdown against Hurricanes
Elton Jantjies was the 22-point star as the Golden Lions of South Africa defeated defending champions Highlanders 42-30 in Johannesburg on Saturday to reach the 2016 Super Rugby final.
The Springboks fly-half scored a try, kicked four conversions and three penalties, and created three other tries for the home team, who built a 17-6 half-time lead in the semi-final at Ellis Park.
“I cannot describe how I feel,” admitted man-of-the-match Jantjies. “It is wonderful that we are still in the competition with one week to go.”
Reaching the decider continues a fairytale rise for the Johannesburg team, who were relegated after the 2012 season and narrowly avoided bankruptcy before returning to the big time two years ago.
The scoreline flattered the visitors, who trailed 42-16 five minutes from time before winger Waisake Naholo and substitute lock Joe Wheeler got over the line.
The Lions face another New Zealand outfit, 2015 runners-up Hurricanes, in the final next Saturday in Wellington.
Resolute defence and the brilliance of fly-half Beauden Barrett guided the Hurricanes to a 25-9 triumph over the Chiefs in an all-New Zealand semi-final.
A Jantjies try after 12 minutes gave the South African outfit a lead they never surrendered and the Highlanders were a beaten team long before the final whistle.
“Reaching the final is amazing,” said Lions skipper and flanker Jaco Kriel. “We have been building a team for several seasons and this is the reward.
“We are brothers who fight for each other to the end. That is a secret of our success this season.
“The only disappointment was conceding two late tries – we need to sharpen our defence before facing the Hurricanes.”
Highlanders skipper and All Blacks fullback Ben Smith said the Lions were the better team as they avenged a 34-15 regular season loss in Dunedin.
“The Lions played really well and some of their running rugby was unbelievable. It should be a great final against the Hurricanes.
“I am proud of what we achieved this season defending the title, but today we did not put enough pressure on the Lions.”
Apart from Jantjies’ contribution, centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, winger Courtnall Skosan, Kriel and replacement lock Lourens Erasmus scored a try each for the Lions.
Centre Matt Faddes, fly-half Lima Sopoaga, Naholo and Wheeler were Highlanders’ try scorers with Sopoaga kicking two conversions and two penalties.