Lions’ dream shattered

EMIRATES LIONS’ dream was shattered as they went down to the hands of BNZ Crusaders in the finals of the Vodacom Super Rugby series.

The match took place in front of a sold out Emirates Airlines Park on August 5. Altogether 60 173 spectators made their way to the stadium while another 4 700 service providers were hard at work during the match.

Vodacom spend R1-Million at the opening of the match with a neatly organised firework display and at each try scored the spectators were treated to fireworks. To mark the occasion four Harvards aeroplanes flew over Emirates Airlines Park to give the players and spectators a welcoming sign to start the match. This was also the farewell occasion of Emirates Lions coach, Johan Ackermann, who will join English Premiership club Gloucester next week.

The Emirates Lions players had their parents forming a guard in the players’ tunnel as they entered the stadium in their support of reaching the finals of the SuperRugby finals.

This, all in all, played a massive role to provide the platform for a series final in Johannesburg, but unfortunately, a win for the Lions was not yet to come as the Crusaders broke their hearts and won 25-17. The Crusaders lifted their eighth SuperRugby trophy and were also crowned the first team to win this most coveted trophy as a visiting team.

Though the Lions were reduced to 14-men two minutes before the break, when Kwagga Smith, was handed a red card by referee Jaco Pepyer for making contact with David Havili in the air, they could only show three points for their efforts in the first half to the Crusaders twelve points on the board.

The Lions had a mountain to climb in the second half and the side from down under dominated the Lions in most of the facets of play giving them no room to their expansive manner of play which was their trademark throughout the season.

DOWN AND OUT: Emirates Lions wing, Ruan Combrinck, who hails from Alberton, not in the winning this year. Photo: Gordon Arons.

Ackermann said afterwards the Crusaders deserved to win the title and also praised his team for their fighting display, especially in the second half.

“The result did not go our way, but I asked the guys at half-time not to give up, to keep fighting and they did that,” said Ackermann.

“It took a lot out of 14 men for them to come back and I’m very proud of them – they showed a lot of character. It was phenomenal, coming from 3-25 down to run them close is what will stay with me.

“They did their homework and contested well in the lineouts where they stopped our drives close to their line. They played good rugby all year, have been consistently superb and are worthy champions.”

The Highveld team made a slow start and it was the visitors who were setting the pace in the collisions, while they also took their chances to keep the scoreboard busy. With one man down and battling a twelve-point deficit at halftime (3-15), the home side had a mountain to climb in the second half against the competition’s most successful team.

SIZED UP: Emirates Lions flank, Kwagga Smith, playing a humdinger of a match only to receive a red card for his contact in the air with David Havili. Photo: Gordon Arons.

After the restart, No 8 Kieran Reid crashed over for a converted try and while adding a penalty, the Crusaders stretched their lead to 25-3.

To their credit, the home team dug deep and fought back bravely, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and the rest of the bench making a huge impact. Lively hooker Malcolm Marx scored their first try, while Corne Fourie added a second later on.

However, in the end, it was the Crusaders’ spirited defence against a late, determined home onslaught that ultimately clinched the 2017 title.

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Annette van Schalkwyk
Sports journalist

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