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Lions roar back to edge Highlanders

Published 09/05/2015

Elton Jantjies kicked 10 points to help the Lions fight back to beat the Highlanders
Elton Jantjies kicked 10 points to help the Lions fight back to beat the Highlanders

The Lions fought back from a 17-point half-time deficit to earn a 28-23 victory over the Highlanders in Johannesburg which boosted their chances of securing a Super Rugby play-off place.

The Dunedin-based franchise appeared to be cruising to victory after two quickfire tries at the end of the first half put them 20-3 ahead at the break.

But the Lions responded with three tries in 16 second-half minutes to take the lead with 10 minutes to play, and a fine defensive display to repel one final Highlanders attack saw them hold on to record their sixth win in seven games.

The Lions took the lead through a sixth-minute Marnitz Boshoff penalty but parity was restored on 22 minutes when Lima Sopoaga kicked his only penalty of the match, before the in-form fly-half put his side ahead with a drop-goal on the half-hour mark.

An uneventful first half was drifting towards its conclusion before two tries in the final five minutes saw the Highlanders take a 20-3 lead into the interval.

Blindside flanker Gareth Evans crashed over in the corner after quick hands saw the Highlanders create an overlap out wide, before New Zealand centre Malakai Fekitoa showed a fine turn of pace to race clear from deep in his own half to touch down in the corner.

Despite the narrow angle, Sopoaga demonstrated why he is being tipped for an All Blacks call-up when they play Samoa in two months' time by converting both tries.

Wing Courtnall Skosan gave the Lions hope five minutes after the restart when he crashed over in the corner after some slick handling from his team-mates created space down the flank, and Elton Jantjies converted to reduce the deficit to 20-10.

Highlanders full-back Ben Smith extended his side's lead to 13 points with a 51st-minute drop-goal, but the Lions hit back moments later when loose forward Jaco Kriel crossed the whitewash for the hosts' second try on 54 minutes, which Jantjies converted.

The Lions moved to within a point of the Highlanders on the hour mark when centre Harold Vorster was freed down the flank thanks to some nifty footwork from Jantjies to dot down, and the fly-half kicked two late penalties to complete a remarkable comeback.

The Highlanders had some late possession in Lions territory but resolute defending snuffed out any forthcoming danger to leave the majority of those assembled inside Emirates Airline Park celebrating when the full-time hooter sounded.

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