The Lions righted their one wrong from last year’s Super Rugby season by finishing on top of the overall log, thanks to a workmanlike victory over the Sharks that only ever required them to keep the Durban side at arm’s length.
Having cost themselves the top spot by playing a second-string side (and losing) against the Jaguares, the Lions found themselves having to travel for the 2016 final, a game in which they were manhandled by the Hurricanes.
Going into yesterday’s game played at Growthpoint Kings Park, they already knew that, with the Crusaders having suffered their first defeat of the season against the selfsame ’Canes, a draw would secure them the top spot.
The Sharks went into the match knowing that it was better for them to lose the game – defeat meant playing the Lions at Ellis Park next weekend, and to win heroically meant travelling to New Zealand to play the Crusaders.
The Lions scored 14 unanswered points in the second half through a well-worked Jaco Kriel try and three Elton Jantjies penalties.
Before that, in the first half, the visitors had scored two tries, through hooker Malcolm Marx from a rolling maul and full-back Andries Coetzee. Even the Sharks’ try was a giveaway by Lions fly-half Jantjies, whose shallow 22m drop-out was plucked out of the air by Kobus van Wyk to score.
The result means the quarter-final line-up sees the Lions host the Sharks in Johannesburg, the Stormers at home to the Chiefs, the Hurricanes visit the Brumbies in Canberra, and the Highlanders play the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Earlier the Stormers had prevailed 41-33 over the Bulls in a Barbarians-style game at Loftus Versfeld in which the two sides combined to score 11 tries – six to the visitors and five to the hosts.
In addition to securing the double over their game, but ultimately outplayed hosts this season, Robbie Fleck’s men ensured a repeat of their quarter-final from last year, which saw them host the Chiefs at Newlands in Cape Town. What they won’t want is a repeat of the result from a game in which the New Zealanders put 60 points past them and made a mockery of their title credentials.
Sharks (10) 10
Lions (13) 27
Sharks 10 – Tries: Kobus van Wyk; Conversion: Garth April; Penalty: April
Lions 27 – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Andries Coetzee, Jaco Kriel; Penalties: Elton Jantjies (4)