A last minute try by second row Wikus van Heerden gave the Lions their second win on the road this season and moved them off the foot of the table. Defeat has severely damaged the Highlanders play-off hopes and may have finished their season.
The visitors started the game in positive fashion and decided to the run the ball from just about everywhere. But it was the hosts who went ahead through the boot of Lima Sopoaga, Elton Jantjies replied with two well struck efforts to nudge the Lions in front.
The first try came against the run of play, the Lions were dominating possession and were playing with a lot of confidence, but a lapse in defensive concentration allowed Highlanders centre Shaun Treeby to run through a massive hole and score, Sopoaga added the conversion to give his side a 10-6 lead.
Jantjies again closed the gap with a fantastic penalty from the touchline, before another two Sopoaga penalties made the scores 16-9. Towards the end of the half both sides were starting to make mistakes and the Lions in particular were not helping their cause with some stupid penalties and poor execution, the Highlanders were not playing well but were showing their usual power at the ruck and wouldn’t let the Lions rest. The Highlanders took a 16-9 lead into the break.
This trend continued in the second half, with the Highlanders attack posing very few problems to the Lions defence. The Lions did get there first try after 50 minutes, a smart piece of thinking by Josh Strauss caught the hosts off guard and the big number eight crashed over from five metres out. Jantjies simple conversion levelled the scores at 16-16.
Sopoaga and Jantjies once again exchanged penalty goals and the score was 19-19 going into the final 20 minutes. With 15 to go Treeby made a superb break , bulldozing his way through a couple of tackles he offloaded to flanker John Hardie but he was tackled just a couple of yards from the line, and a great chance went begging. But the hosts did finally take the lead going into the final 10 minutes through another Sopoaga penalty.
The Lions had to go for the try to get the win, they managed to put together 17 well constructed phases which moved them from deep inside their own half to the Highlanders line, but again a penalty at the breakdown seemed to have won the game for the Highlanders. But there was another twist in the tale, Sopoaga who hadn’t put a foot wrong all game sliced his kick and couldn’t find touch, which gave the Lions one last chance.
Powerful lock van Heerden managed to barge his way over from close range and won the game for the Lions. Jantjies retained his 100% record for the night with the conversion and the Lions stole the victory 22-26.
The Highlanders will be disappointed with the loss and the performance that they put in, but the Lions will be delighted they showed great ambition and the performance of Elton Jantjies once again caught the eye, he is looking like a great prospect for the future.
Man of the Match