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Jantjies sparks Lions to first final

Victory in Johannesburg proved a bridge to far for the Highlanders as the Lions put 42 points on a New Zealand team for the second straight week to secure a spot in the Investec Super Rugby final against the Hurricanes.

Playing in afternoon sunshine for the first time this season, the Highlanders looked sluggish as the Lions sleek backs and powerful forwards took complete control before a late Highlanders flurry brought some respectability to the score board.

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The Lions pack mauled the Highlanders at set piece time to lay the platform for a 22-point masterclass from dynamic first five-eighth Elton Jantjies. The pint-sized pivot’s decision making was flawless as he sparked the Lions five try effort. Whether it was kicking for territory, counter attacking with ball in hand or chipping over the Highlanders defence, Jantjies was a constant menace to the Highlanders.

Aside from two Lima Sopoaga penalties, the first half was all the Lions as the home side went into the break at 17-6 up. It was a clinical first half display from the Lions with both of their tries coming from Highlanders errors.

The second half sparked into life as Jantjies broke out from his own half before feeding speedster Courtnall Skosan to coast in for a crucial strike. The Highlanders showed their class by answering back immediately through Matt Faddes out wide to make it 25-11 before the Jantjies quickly closed out the game.



The Lions playmaker exploited the Highlanders flat defence by setting up Jaco Kriel and replacement lock Lourens Erasmus for tries with pin point chip kicks. The two strikes were a dagger blow to the Highlanders as the Lions extended the lead to an unassailable 42-16 with 10 minutes to play.

The Highlanders are not a team to give up easily though, and crossed for two late tries to Waisake Naholo and Wheeler to close the score to 42-30. It was too little too late for the Highlanders but gave a reminder of the class of the defending champions.

The win guarantees that Super Rugby will have a first time winner when the Lions take on the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.

SCORERS:
Lions 42 (Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel, Lourens Erasmus tries, Jantjies 4 con, 3 pen) Highlanders 30 (Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Lima Sopoaga, Joe Wheeler tries, Sopoaga 2 con, 2 pen) HT: 17-6