Combrinck breaks Sharks' hearts
MATCH REPORT: A late long-distance penalty from wing Ruan Combrinck helped the Lions edge the Sharks 23-21 in their Super Rugby quarterfinal in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The wing slotted the angled 58-metre kick at Ellis Park stadium under massive pressure to settle an all-South African quarterfinal that proved much closer than expected.
Lions' reward is a home semifinal next Saturday against defending champions Hurricanes of New Zealand, who beat the Brumbies of Australia 35-16 in Canberra Friday.
Sharks, dismissed as no-hopers after a 17-point regular-season home loss to the Lions last weekend, built a 14-3 half-time lead and were one point ahead when Combrinck struck.
Converting the penalty was a huge relief for the Springbok, who missed the June Test series against France due to injury, as he missed an easier earlier shot at goal.
On a bad afternoon for Lions' goal-kickers, flyhalf Elton Jantjies succeeded with only two of six attempts before being substituted.
Sharks suffered severely from the harsh yellow-carding of lock Stephan Lewies for offside six minutes into the second half with the Lions scoring two tries while numerically advantaged.
The Lions also had a lock, Springbok Francois Mostert, sent to the sin bin, for intentionally collapsing a maul.
His 10 minutes off the field also proved costly as No.8 Daniel du Preez scored a try, which flyhalf Curwin Bosch converted to put the Sharks 21-20 ahead with 13 minutes left.
The Durban outfit retained the narrow advantage until Combrinck showed once again what a superb long-distance goal-kicker he is.
But when Sharks fullback Lwazi Mvovo watches replays of the lead-up to the crucial kick, he will be bitterly disappointed.
Comfortably gathering a long kick inside his half and under no pressure, he opted to run the ball and was dispossessed in midfield.
He then drifted into an offside position and the resultant penalty gave Combrinck the opportunity to win the match.
After Jantjies slotted a 10th-minute penalty, the Sharks took control and punished a midfield muddle by the home team to score a try through wing Jacobus van Wyk.
Bosch booted a drop goal to stretch the lead to 8-3 and kicked two penalties in the final five minutes of the half for an 11-point advantage by the break.
With Lewies in the sin bin, Mostert and skipper and flank Jaco Kriel scored unconverted tries while the kicking woes of Jantjies continued.
After the Sharks were restored to 15 men, the Lions took a 20-14 lead with a quick tap penalty by Harold Vorster leading to fellow centre Lionel Mapoe scoring and Jantjies converting.
Sharks went ahead again just after Mostert was yellow-carded with Du Preez, one of two sons of Sharks coach Robert in the back row, barging over and Bosch converting.
Record seven-time champions the Crusaders of New Zealand will host compatriots Chiefs or the Stormers of South Africa in the other semifinal next weekend.
Man of the match: Sharks captain Philip van der Walt was brilliant in this match. He was strong with ball in hand and he dominated the tackle area as well.
Tries: Mostert, Kriel, Mapoe
Pens: Jantjies, Combrinck
Tries: Van Wyk, D du Preez
Pens: Bosch 2
Yellow cards: Stephan Lewies (Sharks, 46 - repeated infringements, offside), Francois Mostert (Lions, 65 - cynical play, collapsing the maul)
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Albertus Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Jacobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Sibusiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jacobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (captain), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 2 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Lubabalo Mtembu, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Garth April, Jeremy Ward
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Egon Seconds (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)