Time to turn the tables: History against South Africa’s Lions in Super Rugby final against New Zealand’s Hurricanes
South Africa’s Golden Lions face a daunting trip across the Indian Ocean to win their first-ever Super Rugby title in New Zealand after ousting defending champions Highlanders this weekend.
Springboks fly-half Elton Jantjies scored 22 points as the Johannesburg-based Lions knocked out New Zealand’s Highlanders 42-30 on Saturday to reach the Super Rugby final.
The second-ranked Lions now face a gruelling 11,800-kilometre 15-hour flight to New Zealand where they will face the Wellington-based Hurricanes in Saturday’s southern hemisphere provincial tournament decider.
The top-ranked Hurricanes clinched the home final with a 25-9 victory over two-time winners Chiefs in the other semi-final.
History is against the rejuvenated Lions claiming their maiden Super Rugby crown, with no South African team ever winning a final in Australasia.
South Africa’s Durban-based Sharks lost in Auckland against the Blues in 1996, against the ACT Brumbies in Canberra in 2001 and the Chiefs four years ago.
Both the Hurricanes and Lions will be vying to become first-time winners of the five-nation championship with the Hurricanes bidding to go one better than last season’s 21-14 final loss to the Highlanders in Wellington.
The Hurricanes beat the Lions 50-17 in Johannesburg in week 10 this season, while the South Africans split their games in New Zealand this year against the Chiefs and Highlanders.
Reaching the decider continues a fairytale rise for the team, who were relegated after the 2012 season and narrowly avoided bankruptcy before returning to the big time two years ago.
The Lions have been transformed from also-rans to title contenders within three seasons under coach and former Springboks lock Johan Ackermann.
Jantjies scored a try, kicked four conversions and three penalties, and created three other tries as the Lions built a 17-6 half-time lead over the Highlanders at Ellis Park.
The scoreline flattered the visitors, who trailed 42-16 five minutes from time before winger Waisake Naholo and substitute lock Joe Wheeler scored.
In the other semi-final, resolute defence and Beauden Barrett brilliance paved the way for the Hurricanes to win through to the decider over the Chiefs, who thrashed the Western Stormers 60-21 in Cape Town in the previous week’s quarter-finals.
Barrett contributed 15 points with a try, two conversions and two penalties to get the Hurricanes into the final for the second consecutive year.
Willis Halaholo and Victor Vito also scored tries for the Hurricanes, who led 15-6 at half-time.
The Chiefs, who spent 12 minutes inside the Hurricanes 22, were unable to cross the line and had to rely on three Damian McKenzie penalties for their points.
The Hurricanes had sweated all week on the fitness of hooker Dane Coles and waited until 40 minutes from kick off before announcing their influential captain had lost his battle to start after suffering a rib injury last week.
But scrum-half TJ Perenara stepped up to play an influential role in commanding a side that spent much of the game defending and had Barrett in sublime form to make the most of their attacking opportunities.