Super 15 - Highlanders play-off hopes hit
Wikus van Heerden planted a last-minute try to hand the Lions a dramatic upset win over the Highlanders in Dunedin and put the New Zealand side's Super 15 play-off hopes in jeopardy.
The Highlanders, clinging to sixth in the standings and the final wildcard place for the post-season, held a 22-19 lead in the dying moments but were stunned when lock Van Heerden (pictured) barged over the line under a pile of players in the left-hand corner to seal the win with a minute to spare.
The victory was the Lions' third only for the season but the result could mean the Highlanders slip to eighth with three rounds to play in the southern hemisphere competition.
"We got into their 22 and we just got frustrated. We didn't get clean ball from the rucks...it was pretty disappointing," Highlanders skipper Jamie Mackintosh said in a televised interview. "We were in a great position to run through but then we're thrown a banana skin."
Despite carrying a 16-9 lead into the second half, the Highlanders were made to pay for their listless performance in a scrappy and occasionally spiteful contest.
Tensions boiled over with the score level 19-19 in the 59th minute after Lions flanker Michael Rhodes pulled winger Siale Piutau out of a ruck on the Lions' try-line using a headlock.
Incensed, Piutau retaliated by striking Rhodes in the head and players from both sides charged in swinging in a messy exchange sure to attract the attentions of the disciplinary review panel.
Coming off a bye, the Highlanders stuttered through a first quarter littered with wayward passes and handling errors as the Lions' endeavour was rewarded with a pair of penalty goals to fly-half Elton Jantjies.
A sustained assault inside the Lions' 22 was rewarded, however, when Highlanders' inside centre Shaun Treeby swooped on an inside pass from fly-half Lima Sopoaga and rocketed over the line right of the posts.
Sopoaga's conversion put the Highlanders' 10-6 up in the 19th minute.
Jantjies trimmed the deficit to one a few minutes later, but Sopoaga slotted another two penalties in the 10 minutes before half-time to give the Highlanders a 16-9 lead at the break.
Despite dominating possession, the Highlanders failed to twist the knife and their defence were caught napping 10 minutes after half-time when Lions' Josh Strauss took a quick tap from a ruck metres from the try-line.
The bushy-bearded number eight barged his way under a trio of defenders to score the Lions' first try and Jantjies converted to level the score 16-16.
The fly-half slotted his fourth penalty goal seven minutes later to put the Lions three points up.
Sopoaga, laser-sharp all night, coolly slotted two more penalties, the second to give the Highlanders a three-point break with just over 10 minutes left.
A dreadful clearing kick in the last few minutes cost the home side dearly, however, the ball scooped up by the Lions inside the touch-line and carried forward in a last desperate drive that Van Heerden capped with the winning try.
"It's awesome, an awesome feeling," said Lions skipper Doppies la Grange. "I think the guys will get a lot of self confidence from this game and hopefully we can carry this forward."
The Stormers broke through for their first win in Canberra with a grinding 16-3 victory over the hapless ACT Brumbies to keep their steady march toward the Super 15 play-offs on track.
The Capetown-based side were held to two penalty goals in the first half, but converted a try after the break and defended their lead grimly to maintain third place with three rounds to play in the southern hemisphere competition.
The Brumbies, playing only for pride at the tail-end of a dismal season that has wielded only two wins, took a 3-0 lead in the 11th minute through a penalty goal to inside centre Christian Lealiifano but went scoreless thereafter, denied time and again by handling errors and the Stormers' miserly defence.
"We don't mind the four points but it was pretty nasty out there, pretty cold here in Canberra," Stormers skipper Schalk Burger said in a televised interview on a chilly night in the Australian capital.
"Great defensive effort and good work...We just played territory and closed the game out."
The Stormers' defensive line proved rock-solid throughout, denying an almost certain try to the Brumbies in the 24th minute when winger Gio Aplon tackled lock Mitchell Chapman on the tryline at the left corner, dislodging the ball.
The Capetown-based side later saw off a 32-phase assault as the Brumbies tried desperately to conjure two converted tries in the last minutes to snatch victory.
Fly-half Kurt Coleman slotted penalties in the 21st and 37th minute to put the Stormers 6-3 up at halftime and Francois Louw scored the match's only try five minutes after the break.
The burly flanker barged over left of the posts after taking a quick pass from a ruck on the try-line following a lineout steal that went horribly wrong for the Brumbies and ended with the ball back in the Stormers' possession deep in the 22.
Aplon slotted a 71st minute penalty, the match's final score, to give the visitors breathing space to see off the Brumbies' late challenge.
"We had a lot of defending to do. I think it took a fair bit out of us...there weren't too many holes there for us," said Brumbies stand-in skipper Stephen Moore.