Lions comeback stuns Hurricanes
Brenden Nel
July 29, 2017

The Emirates Lions produced one of the most remarkable comebacks in Vodacom Super Rugby history, coming back from 22-3 down to beat the defending champions, the Hurricanes, 44-29 in an enthralling game of rugby at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

After a blistering opening spell by the Hurricanes, which left the home side reeling, the Johannesburg side returned from the dead to storm back in the second half and book themselves a home final against the Crusaders next weekend in Johannesburg.

In the space of 15 minutes just before the halftime break, the Lions finally found their feet and scored 19 unanswered points to level the scores, snatch back the momentum and announce themselves as true championship contenders, giving South Africa its first final since 2010.

There had been so many questions asked about a team that had failed to face a New Zealand side this year. Would they be able to withstand the intensity? Would they be able to lift themselves having not faced a Kiwi side all season?

And for the first half hour of the game, it seemed they could not, or would not be able to cope with the intensity brought by the defending champs.

To illustrate how bad it was, at one point the Lions had made 18 tackles and missed 15 – not the type of stat they would ever want to read for any game, let alone a semifinal.

After this performance there are Lions players who stood tall like giants as they outscored the Hurricanes 41 points to 7 in the last 50 minutes of the match.

In terms of a turnaround this was more than huge, Kiwi sides don’t often get beaten, let alone get pounded like that in any game.

The likes of Franco Mostert were exceptional, Malcolm Marx and Ruan Ackermann immense, while Ruan Combrinck and Ross Cronje stood out with Elton Jantjies growing in stature as the game went on.

It seemed a hopeless cause, the Hurricanes were all dominant, and their rush defence was forcing mistakes that they capitalised on. The Lions looked lost and listless, with even captain Jaco Kriel disappearing from the fray.

It started in the seventh minute when the Lions were 3-0 up through an Jantjies penalty. The kickoff went into touch and the Lions looked solid with a scrum on the halfway line.

They attacked, with Cronje wrapping around Jantjies in a one-two that often has worked for them in the past, but Cronje overran the pass, or Jantjies was a few centimetres out, and the ball hopped loose.

TJ Perenara needed no invitation, and grubbered the ball ahead twice, outsprinting the defenders to pounce and grab a try that never should have been.

Four minutes later Beauden Barrett ghosted through a gap in a first-phase move that stunned the home side, sending the ball wide to Wes Goosen to go into the corner.

The Canes stretched their lead through a Jordie Barrett penalty before the Lions made a fatal mistake, deciding to run a penalty when they needed to get out of their own half, and coughed up the ball at a ruck for Ardie Savea to pounce and run through to score.

It was 31 minutes gone and 22-3 on the clock with only one team in the game.


But then something happened. Something that inspired belief and spurred the Lions on. They needed someone to step up, and in the fracas, their captain Jaco Kriel made a steal that will be remembered for a long time.

The ensuing penalty was pumped into the corner, and the Lions pounded the Canes defence, until eventually Jacques van Rooyen picked Beauden Barrett up like a rhino charging forward, and barged his way over the line.

At 22-10 at the break the Lions were still in it, but it was a long shot.

But whatever was said in the changeroom should be bottled and spread around the country. For the Lions emerged first and ran hard, determined to get back into the game.

They suddenly found some space and made inroads, taking the first exit properly and playing in the right areas of the field. And as they came closer, the Canes looked vulnerable, missing tackles and being taken back in contact.

Eventually it was Cronje who saw the white line and put the ball down from close range, grabbing the try.

Jantjies had found his kicking boots again and suddenly looked like he was growing in confidence and on the back of a dominant scrum, and a lineout maul that looked better by the minute, the momentum started to shift in favour of the home side.

The Lions put the ball into the corner and backed their pack, and they didn’t disappoint as Malcolm Marx claimed a try that Van Rooyen should have minutes earlier.

In the blink of an eye everything had changed, and the score was 22-all.

But the Canes aren’t defending champs for nothing and another mistake, trying to run out of their own 22-metre area, cost the Lions.

A strong counter ruck knocked Ross Cronje off the ball, and the turnover was sent wide with ease for Ngane Laumape to score and retake the lead for the visitors.

Still, there wasn’t any panic in the home ranks, as first Jantjies slotted a penalty and then through sheer determination the Lions pounded their way forward. Nine phases later the red sea opened for Harold Vorster to run through untouched, and the lead was back in the Lions’ hands once gain.

Rattled and off their game, Jordie Barrett missed a sitter of a penalty, and the Canes looked tired as the Lions grew stronger.

Jantjies darter over to ensure the victory with 10 minutes to go, but there was always the danger of letting the advantage slip.

But the bench was there to ensure it never did and one of the unsung heroes of the season – Akker van der Merwe – intercepted in the Canes' 22, passing to Kwagga Smith to score.

It was game set and match for the Lions and they surged into the final knowing if they can play like this, they won’t be easily stopped.

But in a true cliché of a game of two halves, they gave more than a few of their fans a heart attack, rising from the dead to give not only themselves a chance, but South African rugby hope.


Emirates Lions – tries: Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith. Conversions: Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (2)

Hurricanes – tries: TJ Perenara, Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngane Laumape. Conversions: Jordie Barrett (3). Penalties: Jordie Barrett (1)

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