Lions talisman Ruan Combrinck kicked a 50 metre penalty to end the Sharks Super Rugby season in dramatic quarter-final at Ellis Park.
The Sharks, given no chance of beating the competition’s league winners, were two minutes away from crushing the Lions march to a first ever Super Rugby title.
The Sharks led 21-20 when Combrink’s multi talents keep alive the Lions dream and secured a 23-21 victory.
Combrink is a brilliant rugby player and is the type of player whose presence is always influential. It’s doubtful though that even he would have envisaged his match-winning heroics would be via a penalty kick from inside his own half.
The Sharks deserved to win the quarter-final but the Lions deserve to still be championship contenders. The result is cruel for the Sharks, given the quality of their quarter-final effort. They were the better team throughout the the match and finally gave a performance to justify the hype around the Sharks in the early part of the season.
The Sharks played like a team with nothing to lose and the Lions resembled a team stifled by their own fear of failure and also confronted with an in-your-face opponent who refused to to take a step backwards for 80 minutes.
The Lions were ‘t complacent. To suggest that would be to insult the performance of the Sharks.
The cliche is that league form and regular season standings means nothing in a play-off. The Sharks ensured the cliche has substance because they tore up the form book, dismissed last week’s meek surrender to the Lions in Durban and played the merits of the occasion.
The Lions were rattled and nearly rolled. They will be better prepared for the challenge of the Hurricanes because the Sharks ensured no one will take anything for granted because the Lions have the home ground advantage.
This was a special match because of spoke to every aspect of high pressure once-off situations. Every player, on both sides, will be mentally stronger for the experience.
The Sharks will take no comfort from losing but they won in many other respects; as did the bigger picture of South African rugby.
The Lions will host the Hurricanes, who beat the Brumbies 35-16 in Canberra and the Crusaders (17-0 victors against the Highlanders) will be at home to Chiefs, who edged the Stormers 17-11 at Newlands.