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Lions beat Sharks to finish top

15 July 2017 National Sport

Last Updated: 15/07/17 7:54pm

Elton Jantjies contributed 12 points to the Lions' cause

Elton Jantjies contributed 12 points to the Lions’ cause

The Lions ground out a 27-10 final-round victory against the Sharks to top the overall standings, which guarantees home advantage in every knock-out match they play.

The teams clash again next weekend in the quarter-finals of the annual southern hemisphere championship, with the Johannesburg-based Lions playing in front of their supporters.

A try by full-back Andries Coetzee after the hooter sounded for half-time gave the visitors a 13-10 advantage by the break at Kings Park.

The Lions kept the Sharks scoreless in the second half of a scrappy match while adding 14 points from a try and three penalties to make it 14 wins in 15 regular-season matches.

They finished with 65 points, two more than long-time leaders the Crusaders, who fell 31-22 at the Hurricanes earlier in the day.

The Durban result prevented the Sharks and the Highlanders of New Zealand making long journeys in the quarter-finals.

The Highlanders travel from Dunedin to Christchurch in the south island to face Crusaders, who had won 14 consecutive matches this season before losing in Wellington.

Jaco Kriel was one of three try-scorers for the Lions

Jaco Kriel was one of three try-scorers for the Lions

Jaco Kriel was one of three try-scorers for the Lions

Another New Zealand outfit, the Chiefs, do have to travel far, though, from the north island to Cape Town for a showdown with the Stormers.

The remaining quarter-final is a trans-Tasman affair, with the Brumbies of Australia hosting defending champions the Hurricanes in Canberra.

The Lions or Sharks are likely to be the only non-New Zealand semi-finalists, with the Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes favoured to win the other last-eight matches.

“It is an amazing feeling to finish top of the overall standings,” said Lions skipper and loose forward Jaco Kriel, who was among Saturday’s try-scorers.

“Our preparations this week were normal with nothing special despite the match in Durban having huge significance.

“What we must not assume is that our match against the Sharks next weekend will be similar to the one we have just played.

“They will be a much more difficult ‘monster’ to tame even though we will enjoy home advantage at Ellis Park.”

Kriel is deputising for No 8 Warren Whiteley, who suffered a pelvic injury in a Test against France last month and is not expected to play again in Super Rugby this season.

Sharks skipper and loose forward Philip van der Walt said a lack of possession, particularly during the second half, prevented his team seriously challenging the Lions.

“Without the ball we were toothless and the Lions were good at keeping us in our own half of the field.

“There was a huge turn-out of our supporters tonight and it is not nice to let them down. We have another chance next weekend and I hope we make the most of it.”

Fly-half Garth April defied a swirling wind to kick an early penalty and give the Sharks a lead they surrendered when hooker Malcolm Marx was credited with a pushover try.

Lions playmaker Elton Jantjies extended the advantage to five points via a penalty, but his careless drop-out gifted winger Kobus van Wyk a try and April converted for a 10-8 lead.

Slick handling by backs and forwards allowed Coetzee to regain the lead for the visitors, and Jantjies slotted three second-half penalties and Kriel scored a try.

While leading Super Rugby points-scorer Jantjies did contribute 12 points, he suffered the unusual embarrassment of failing to convert any of the three tries.

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