The Lions ground their way to a well deserved 29-20 win over Western Province at Ellis Park on Saturday to clinch their first home Currie Cup final since 2002.
The first half of the match was played in typical semi-final style as the boots of the respective place kickers did most of the talking.
The hosts received the first opportunity to open the scores after four minutes of play, but fullback Jaco Taute, who was called on to take a long range penalty kick, could not convert.
Province’s sharp-shooting flyhalf, Demetri Catrakilis, made no mistake with his shot at goal five minutes later for the opening three points.
The Lions’ regular place kicker, Elton Jantjies, soon levelled the scores as he succeeded with an attempt 12 minutes into the match, and then added two more to give his side a six-point advantage.
His opposite number replied with a massive shot at goal from the halfway line to reduce the margin to three points once again.
The two kickers exchanged blows one more time as the scores went to 12-9 with eight minutes left in the first half.
While the flyhalves ensured the scoreboard was ticking over, there were some great individual performances that broke some of the monotony.
Lions lock Franco van der Merwe had a cracking game, along with the loose trio of Derick Minnie, Michael Rhodes and skipper Joshua Strauss.
The home side’s coach, John Mitchell, had predicted beforehand that the battle at the breakdown would be crucial, and he was proved correct.
Van der Merwe made a number of exciting line breaks which put Province on the back foot.
Schalk Burger, meanwhile, was at his imposing best for Province as he tirelessly tried to do the work of three loose forwards.
His side’s efforts to keep the Lions from their try-line, however, proved fruitless, and four minutes before the half-time break the hosts scored a five-pointer.
Taute scored a well worked try after Rhodes went on a canter, offloading to Deon van Rensburg, on the wing, who drew Jean de Villiers before Taute sped over.
Jantjies added the conversion to give his side a 10-point lead going into the interval.
The Lions got the rub of the green after the break when winger Michael Killian was gifted an intercept by Province scrumhalf Nic Groom, sprinting 40 metres to score his side’s second try, with Jantjies again converting.
Catrakilis pulled some points back with a penalty conversion but his effort was soon reversed when Jantjies returned the favour with 20 minutes left in the clash.
The final quarter of the match saw some riveting rugby, with the sides trading blows as Province desperately attacked the tryline.
They finally breached the Lions’ defence when replacement centre Juan de Jongh found an open tryline in front of him after the visitors had taken the ball through a few phases.
Catrakilis, however, missed the conversion and the Lions held on to set up a final against defending champions the Sharks at Ellis Park next week. — Sapa