Just like that, the Lions are in a third straight Super Rugby final.
Warren Whiteley’s men booked their plane ticket to Christchurch where this weekend they will face eight-time champions the Crusaders, in a repeat of last year’s final, after producing a hard-fought 44-26 victory over the Waratahs in the semifinal at Ellis Park on Saturday.
On Saturday, the home side had to work hard after they went into the break deadlocked at 19-19, after a spirited opening blitz from the Waratahs.
But once the Lions took control of proceedings up front and kept the ball for longer periods, it was always going to be a big ask for the Waratahs, who had made the journey across the Atlantic last week after a come-from-behind win over the Highlanders in Sydney last weekend.
Earlier, the Crusaders easily brushed past the Hurricanes with a 30-12 win in a one-sided affair in Christchurch. The Crusaders have now won 20 from 20 playoff matches in Christchurch, and will be an extremely tough nut to crack in front of their home fans. Against the Hurricanes on Saturday they rarely looked like they got out of third gear as they pushed closer to a ninth title.
The Lions are the one team in the competition that can rival the Crusaders’ forwards pack.
The Lions are spearheaded by the brilliance and sheer power of hooker Malcolm Marx, while Kwagga Smith once again showed why he should feature in national coach Rassie Erasmus’ plans for next year’s World Cup in Japan with a wonderful performance against the Waratahs.
Only two teams have beaten the in-form Crusaders this season – the Hurricanes and Highlanders – but since those blips in March they have recorded 14 straight wins. The Lions admittedly haven’t been as sharp as in their two previous campaigns.
To win a final in Christchurch against the best the competition has to offer would be a wonderful achievement for the Lions. Stranger things have happened in the sporting world.