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Super Rugby: Lions squeeze past NSW

May 12, 2019

The Lions came from behind for a 29-28 win over New South Wales Waratahs in Super Rugby on Saturday, doing little to help coach Swys de Bruin’s nerves on his return to duty after a break because of stress.

The Lions trailed at halftime and again midway through the second half before a Shaun Reynolds penalty with just over 10 minutes to go saw them squeeze home. Both teams scored four tries.

Finalists for the last three seasons, the Lions have been off the pace this year with their 6-5 record. They are 21 points behind overall leaders the Crusaders, the team they’ve lost to in the last two Super Rugby finals.

Earlier, the Highlanders scored three tries in the last 10 minutes of the first half and hung on in the second half to beat the Jaguares 32-27, consolidating their place in the top eight with five rounds of the regular season to play.

Scrumhalf Brad Weber scored two tries including the match-winner in the 70th minute as the Chiefs rallied to beat South African conference leaders the Sharks 29-23 in Hamilton.

ACT Brumbies and the Sharks are second and third overall with 29 points, but 18 points behind the Crusaders.

The Wellington-based Hurricanes, Dunedin-based Highlanders, Melbourne Rebels, Pretoria-based Bulls and the Argentina-based Jaguares were the other teams in the playoff spots with the Lions dropping out of the top-eight to ninth place.

New South Wales led the Lions in the sixth minute in Johannesburg when scrumhalf Nick Phipps darted through for the first try. Captain Michael Hooper and Rob Simmons also crossed for the Waratahs to give them a surprise halftime lead.

The Lions kept in touch and were ahead for the first time when wing Courtnall Skosan finished after good interplay from the Lions forwards early in the second.

The Waratahs hit back with their fourth try, to Tom Staniforth, after a powerful run by wing Curtis Rona took the Waratahs to within a meter of the tryline.

Reynolds landed what was the game-deciding penalty in the 68th minute but both teams attacked relentlessly after that in a breathless finish.

The Lions, who have slim hopes of making another final, are only fourth in the South African conference. The Waratahs are fourth in the Australian conference and 13th overall.

Fullback Matt Faddes, center Sio Tompkinson and hooker Liam Coltman touched down in the last minutes of a frenetic half to give the Highlanders a 26-13 lead over the Jaguares at halftime in Dunedin.

They needed every point, managing only two penalties in the second half while the Jaguares rallied with two converted tries.

But contentious calls went against the Jaguares in the last quarter, stalling their comeback and allowing the Highlanders to hold on for a win that lifted them to fifth overall.

Frustrations boiled over in a melee involving almost all 30 players just before the final whistle and Jaguares captain Agustin Creevy was involved in a long conversation with referee Ben O’Keeffe after he signaled fulltime.

“We did a great job in coming back into the game,” Jaguares scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli said. “The end of the game was a bit frustrating. We will have to double and maybe triple check some penalties at the end.”

The Durban-based Sharks were on target to cap a highly successful tour to Australia and New Zealand when they led the Chiefs 23-17 with 12 minutes remaining. They had previously beaten the Waratahs in Sydney and last week drew with defending champions the Crusaders 21-21 in Christchurch.

They should have beaten the Crusaders but conceded a try after the fulltime siren and, on Saturday, were again overtaken in sight of the finish line.

The Chiefs first scored a 68th-minute try to center Anton Lienert-Brown to cut the margin to a point, 23-22. From the restart Alex Nankivell made a long break out of the Chiefs’ half, linked with Solomon Alaimalo, and Weber took the last pass to score.

“If you compare that to the start of the season, we probably would have given up at the start,” Weber said. “But now there’s a helluva lot of fight in us. We were down with 15 minutes to go but I knew we still had it in us.”

Weber scored his first try as the Chiefs led throughout the first half, 17-13 at halftime.

The Sharks took the lead for the first time with a try to Ruan Botha in the 57th. Flyhalf Curwin Bosch kicked a penalty to make the lead 23-17 but the Sharks weren’t able to hold on.

They were still trying at the end, holding the ball for 18 phases after the fulltime siren until a turnover ended the game.

Winger Henry Speight scored two tries as the ACT Brumbies returned to the top of the Australia conference with a 33-0, bonus point over Japan’s Sunwolves.

Scrumhalf Joe Powell, fullback Tom Banks and backrower Pete Samu also scored in a five-tries to nil win.

Speight completed his double before halftime when the Brumbies led 19-0 and provided an assist in Banks’ try at the start of the second half.

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