The Emirates Lions will host the Hurricanes in a repeat of last year’s Vodacom Super Rugby final after both teams qualified for the 2017 semi-finals during an action-packed top-eight round.
Both of last year’s finalists were made to work incredibly hard to progress to the final four yet again, while the DHL Stormers and the Cell C Sharks were edged in their quarter-finals on Saturday.
The Durbanites travelled to Johannesburg as underdogs but nearly caused a massive upset against the table-topping Emirates Lions, who eventually clinched this encounter by 23-21 thanks to a long-range penalty goal two minutes from time by Ruan Combrinck.
The Emirates Lions will realise though that they will have to up their game next weekend against the defending champions as they were almost shown up by a gallant Cell C Sharks side, who delivered one of their best performances of the season.
Jozi’s Pride scored three tries to the Durbanites’ two, but errors almost cost them, while they also missed out on 13 points because of unsuccessful kicks at goal. However, the Cell C Sharks deserve a lot of credit for disrupting the rhythm of last year’s runners up and putting up a fighting display for 80 minutes.
“We’ll take it, but credit to the Sharks,” said Emirates Lions coach Johan Ackermann after the match.
“They put us under a lot of pressure. But we also put ourselves on the back foot. Our decision-making wasn’t the best. Hopefully, we can improve that for next weekend. There were opportunities to run and we still kicked sometimes. We must finish those opportunities.”
Later on Saturday, the DHL Stormers were made to pay for a lacklustre display in Cape Town, where they went down to the Chiefs by 17-11.
After a first half where the boots of Damian McKenzie and SP Marais contributed all the points – the score at the break was 9-3 to the visitors – DHL Stormers captain Siya Kolisi had the DHL Newlands faithful on their feet when he scored the first try of the match in the 45th minute.
Kolisi’s try wasn’t converted, which meant the Chiefs never relinquished their lead. A penalty goal apiece saw the score change to 12-11 for the visitors but when replacement wing Shaun Stevenson crossed untouched for the Chiefs first and only try of the match, with less than five minutes left on the clock, the contest was over for all practical purposes.
For the eighth time in nine playoffs, the match ended in heartbreak for the DHL Stormers, as the Chiefs became the third New Zealand side to qualify for the semi-finals in 2017.
Next Saturday’s first semi-final will be in Christchurch, where the Crusaders will host the Chiefs at 09h35 (SA time), while the Emirates Lions will take on the Hurricanes at 14h30 at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg.
Emirates Lions 23 (3) Cell C Sharks 21 (14)
Emirates Lions – Tries: Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Lionel Mapoe. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalty goals: Jantjies, Ruan Combrinck.
Cell C Sharks – Tries: Kobus van Wyk, Dan du Preez. Conversion: Curwin Bosch. Penalty goals: Bosch (2). Drop goal: Bosch.
DHL Stormers 11 (3) Chiefs 17 (9)
DHL Stormers – Try: Siya Kolisi. Penalty goals: SP Marais (2).
Chiefs – Try: Shaun Stevenson. Penalty goals: Damian McKenzie (4).
Other Quarter-final Results:
Friday, 21 July:
Brumbies 16 Hurricanes 35
Saturday, 22 July
Crusaders 17 Highlanders 0