Tahs tamed by red hot Lions to set up rematch with Crusaders
THEY say that sometimes you have to lose one to win one.
Well, in the case of the Lions, they'll be hoping it's third time lucky after the Johannesburg-based side sealed their place in the Super Rugby final after overcoming the Waratahs 44-26 at Ellis Park.
The result means that the Lions and Crusaders will be pitted against each other in the final for the second straight year, after the New Zealand team confirmed they would host the decider after smashing the Hurricanes 30-12 on Saturday night in Christchurch.
Last year, the Crusaders won their eighth Super Rugby title after becoming the first team to cross the Indian Ocean to claim the championship by beating the Lions 25-17 at Ellis Park.
The Lions came from 14-0 down against the Waratahs and never trailed again after taking the lead in the 36th minute.
Lions hooker Malcolm Marx was the star for the home side.
The world's premier rake was on the end of two powerful rolling mauls to score crucial tries on either side of halftime and was a menace at the breakdown.
Marx and Test flanker Kwagga Smith - who also scored a brace - proved to be the difference between the two sides again, with the star duo also influential in the 29-0 regular season win over NSW.
"The Tahs put us under pressure, especially with that fast start that they had, two quick tries," Lions captain Warren Whiteley said.
"The boys fought back nicely.
"When we got the maul nicely it was effective and overall it was a decent performance.
"But we know that we'll probably have to be 50 per cent better to compete next week.
"There's a lot to work on."
Meanwhile, the Waratahs were playing their first semi-final since 2015.
Their exit means no Australian side has reached a Super Rugby final since the Waratahs took out the championship in 2014.
"We probably turned over the ball at set-piece or first or second phase too much," Waratahs captain Bernard Foley said.
"We weren't able to apply pressure and hold on.
"But they're a quality side and, I suppose, overpowered us in that second half.
"I'm incredibly proud of our guys.
"They stuck at it all year.
"Every game we turned up, and we gave it a really hot crack today and it's a shame we didn't get the result."
The Waratahs raced out of the blocks, scoring twice inside the first 10 minutes to lead 14-0.
Ned Hanigan scored out wide after the Waratahs were able to regain possession from an up-and-under from Foley, before the visitors switched the play rapidly from the right to left and ended with the Test loose-forward diving over.
The Waratahs found more space down the left-hand touchline soon after as tryscoring machine Taqele Naiyaravoro palmed away two Lions defenders with ease before passing inside to Kurtley Beale who was cut down from behind by Lions centre Lionel Mapoe.
It mattered little, as the Waratahs continued to batter the Lions line and Israel Folau ended up scoring under the posts.
But it wasn't long before the Lions started to roar.
A number of penalties helped stifle the Waratahs' momentum and Smith made the visitors pay for their ill-discipline, shrugging away recalled hooker Tolu Latu to hit back for the home side.
Lions hooker Marx pulled off his second intercept in as many weeks from a lineout, but was cut down by Beale on the Waratahs' 10m line.
But the Waratahs couldn't breathe easy for long, as Aphiwe Dyantyi left the visitors and the Ellis Park faithful stunned.
The young Springbok, in his first Super Rugby campaign, received the ball close to his 22m line before charging back to the Waratahs' chasing pack, chipping ahead for himself and skinning Foley on the outside to score an incredible try and cut the deficit to 14-12 after 28 minutes.
With no ball, the Waratahs continued to shoot themselves in the foot as Foley's restart failed to go the required 10m.
Making matters worse, the Waratahs were penalised at the scrum and it wasn't long until the Lions were attacking their line.
The Waratahs breathed a sigh of relief when Lions lock Franco Mostert was denied a try after a knock-on from teammate Marvin Orie.
But moments later the home side made the Waratahs pay for not finding touch by winning a penalty and then scoring from the rolling maul through their incredible hooker Marx to take a 19-14 lead after 36 minutes.
Eventually the Waratahs got some field position through a penalty and they grabbed the opportunity with both hands, as Tom Robertson scored after a clever short throw from Latu at the lineout.
Foley's conversion miss saw the score locked up at 19-19 at halftime.
Both teams had their chances after halftime, but it was the boot of Elton Jantjies that saw the Lions take the lead in the 56th minute as the fly-half slotted a penalty from close range.
The game again turned on its head in the 58th minute as NSW replacement hooker Damien Fitzpatrick was yellow carded for interfering with play as he attempted to run back onside.
From the five metre lineout, Marx grabbed his second from the rolling maul.
But the Waratahs were left seething as replacement forward Tom Staniforth was called out of the maul despite splitting the Lions through the middle.
The decision from New Zealand referee Glen Jackson to call Staniforth out was labelled as a "disgraceful call" by former Wallaby Hoiles in commentary.
Smith scored his second try five minutes later and Jantjies' conversion saw the Lions extend their lead to 34-19.
Replacement halfback Jake Gordon hit back for the Waratahs in the 75th minute and Foley's conversion cut the margin to 37-26.
But Test winger Courtnall Skosan put the icing on the cake after collecting a cross-field kick from Jantjies to score in the 79th minute and set up a replay with the Crusaders.
"They (Crusaders) were clinical," Whiteley said.
"What a performance against a very, very strong Hurricanes side.
"Look, it's going to take a lot to beat them next week.
"But, we know, when you're in a final you give yourself a chance and we're looking forward to it."