Lions boost Super title hopes as Crusaders falter

The Golden Lions finished top of the regular-season standings, securing home advantage for the Super,Picture: Getty Images

The Golden Lions finished top of the regular-season standings, securing home advantage for the Super Rugby play-offs as the Canterbury Crusaders lost their unbeaten run this weekend.

The Johannesburg-based Lions capitalised on the Crusaders’ 31-22 defeat to defending champions Wellington Hurricanes with a 27-10 final-round victory over the Coastal Sharks in Durban.

The Lions will face the Sharks again, but at home at Ellis Park in next weekend’s quarter-finals, while the seven-time champion Crusaders host the Otago Highlanders in an all-New Zealand play-off.The Lions finished the season with a 14-1 win-loss record, achieving the feat without facing a New Zealand team.

“It is an amazing feeling to finish top of the overall standings,” Lions skipper Jaco Kriel said.

“What we must not assume is that our match against the Sharks next weekend will be similar to the one we have just played.”They will be a much more difficult ‘monster’ to tame even though we will enjoy home advantage.”

The Waikato Chiefs face the long trip to South Africa to take on the Western Stormers after downing the ACT Brumbies 28-10 in Hamilton.

The Brumbies, despite winning only six games this season, have home advantage as the Australian conference winners in their quarter-final against the Hurricanes, winners of 12 matches this campaign.The Lions or Sharks are likely to be the only non-New Zealand semi-finalists with Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes favoured to win their last-eight matches.

The Lions led 13-10 at half-time and kept the Sharks scoreless in the second half while adding 14 points from a try and three penalties.The Crusaders’ hopes of a flawless Super Rugby season were shattered by the Hurricanes despite leading 12-0 early.

Canterbury paid the price for poor discipline as the defending champions ran in four tries to two.The Chiefs completed New Zealand’s Super Rugby rout over Australian sides this season in their three tries to one victory over the Brumbies.

The result gave New Zealand teams a 25-0 winning record against Australian opposition, the first such clean sweep over their trans-Tasman rivals.In other games, Sevens star Seabelo Senatla scored with 73 seconds left to seal a 41-33 win for the Stormers over Northern Bulls.

The Highlanders tuned up for the finals with a convincing 40-17 win over the Queensland Reds in Dunedin.Japan’s Sunwolves stunned the Auckland Blues 48-21 to finish a second chastening Super Rugby season on a high note.

Boosted by a Timothy Lafaele hat-trick, the home side posted only their second win of the campaign as the Blues wilted in the blistering Tokyo heat.Argentina’s Jaguares completed an unbeaten tour of Australia with a come-from-behind 32-29 victory over the Rebels in Melbourne.

The Western Force made their final pitch for retention in next year’s competition with an emotional 40-11 win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Perth.Tipped to be the Australian team cut from Super Rugby, they made it successive wins to end the season by running in five tries to one to finish second in the Australian conference.

Central Cheetahs turned a 14-point deficit into a 21-20 away victory over Southern Kings in the final Super Rugby match for both South African teams.

The southern-hemisphere competition is being reduced from 18 sides to 15 next season with the Cheetahs, Kings and the Rebels or Force from Australia dropping out.