SIMON BORCHARDT watched the Golden Lions beat Western Province 29-20 at Ellis Park to secure a home final against the Sharks next Saturday.
WP came into this game as favourites. They had five World Cup Springboks in their starting XV compared to the Lions’ one. This was their third consecutive appearance in the Currie Cup play-offs, while the Lions had not reached this stage since 2008.
Yet it was the young Lions side that played like experienced veterans, scoring two unanswered tries to reach their first final since 2007. WP looked disinterested for the first hour and by the time they woke up, the game was long gone.
Elton Jantjies was successful with all seven of his kicks at goal, which forced Province to play catch-up throughout. The Lions were the more threatening side on attack and were solid on defence, especially in the second half when they had just 40% of the ball (compared to 60% in the first half). Derick Minnie produced a big performance at the breakdown, while Franco van der Merwe impressed with ball in hand.
The Lions deservedly led 19-12 at the break, after Jantjies and Demetri Catrakilis each kicked four penalties, and Jaco Taute scored a try on the 35-minute mark after an inside pass from Deon van Rensburg.
WP weren’t helped by injuries to Siya Kolisi, whose head collided with Jantjies’ elbow during an attempted tackle, and Bryan Habana, who was replaced on the half-hour mark by Juan de Jongh (he went to centre with Jean de Villiers moving to the wing). However, the Province scrum did improve when Frans Malherbe came on at tighthead prop with Brok Harris moving to loosehead.
The Lions extended their lead to 14 early in the second half when a poor pass from Nicholas Groom was intercepted by Michael Killian, and the left wing went over in the corner. That prompted the surprise return of Habana, who until then had been sitting on the bench as if his match was over.
Catrakilis and Jantjies exchanged penalties to make it 29-15 going into the final quarter, as WP began to dominate possession and territory. They came close to scoring when Schalk Burger offloaded in the tackle to Harris, who was stopped inches short of the tryline. The Lions tackled courageously during this period but a double-skip pass from Burger eventually put De Jongh over with 10 minutes remaining.
Catrakilis, though, missed the crucial conversion that would have brought his side back to within striking range, and the Lions finished the match inside the WP half.