JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s Lions fought back from 14 points down to beat the New South Wales Waratahs 44-26 in their Super Rugby semi-final on Saturday as Malcolm Marx and Kwagga Smith grabbed two tries each and winger Aphiwe Dyantyi scored a superb solo effort.
The Lions will play in the final for a third successive year, but must travel to New Zealand to meet the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch in the decisive encounter next Saturday.
The Waratahs scored two tries inside the opening eight minutes at Ellis Park to threaten an upset away win, but the Lions fought back to secure a thrilling victory, scoring six tries to their opponents’ four.
Courtnall Skosan scored the Lions’ other try with Ned Hanigan, Israel Folau, Tom Robertson and Jake Gordon going over for the Waratahs, who were level 19-19 at halftime but only managed to add to their points’ tally with five minutes left.
It was the third game in a row that the Lions looked to be sleepwalking at the start, as Hanigan scored a fourth-minute try for the Waratahs and Folau repeated the feat just four minutes later.
Yet the Lions did not panic and awoke from their slumber to impose themselves on the contest.
“We were under pressure and had to go back to the drawing board as the Tahs caught us early,” said Lions’ captain Warren Whiteley.
The Waratahs defence allowed Smith to drive through three tackles and score the home side’s first points after 21 minutes before Dyantyi’s brilliant effort four minutes later.
Dyantyi fielded a kick deep inside his own half, chipped the ball over the defensive line, collected it out of the air and then burst away with incredible pace to score a superb solo effort to delight the home crowd.
Marx claimed his first try of the afternoon in the 35th minute from a driving maul, but a trick routine at a lineout soon after allowed Robertson to burst over for the Waratahs as the two sides went into the interval level after a six-try first half.
Elton Jantjies’ penalty put the Lions 22-19 ahead 15 minutes into the second half, which was followed by a second try from Marx at the end of another driving maul.
Smith then scored his second try with a speedy burst off the side of a maul, effectively sealing victory for the Lions.
Jantjies kicked a long-range penalty to stretch the lead to 37-19 before substitute Gordon got the Waratahs’ first points of the second half with time almost up.
The Lions had the final say, however, as Jantjies’ cross-field kick allowed Skosan to score on the final whistle for an 18-point triumph.
The Crusaders beat the Wellington Hurricanes 30-12 in their semi earlier on Saturday, which means this year’s final is a repeat of the 2017 decider, which the New Zealanders won away in Johannesburg.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Toby Davis