Wikus van Heerden destroyed the Otago Highlanders with a try on fulltime as the lowly Golden Lions upset Super 15 finals contenders Otago Highlanders 26-22 yesterday.
The Highlanders were looking to firm up their top-six position with a home win against the bottom-placed Lions and appeared certain to achieve their wish when they won a defensive penalty while leading 22-19 and time almost up.
However, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga failed to find touch with the crucial kick, allowing the Lions to storm back and the 32-year-old van Heerden crashed across to seal the outcome to the delight of his captain Doppies la Grange.
“It’s an awesome feeling. Wikus is always a stalwart, he always plays with heart,” la Grange said.
It was only the third win of the year for the Lions while the Highlanders, who looked rusty in their first game back after a bye, are reliant on the outcome of other matches over the weekend if they are to remain in the top six.
The Lions also had the satisfaction of outscoring the Highlanders two tries to one in a match marred by a high penalty count from repeated breakdown infringements by both sides
Sopoaga, who had a sound game apart from his missed touchfinder at the end, landed five penalties for the Highlanders while the Lions’ Elton Jantjies was successful with four from four attempts. The lead changed six times in the match with the Highlanders striking first when the Lions turned over the ball from the kick-off and then conceded a penalty for Sopoaga to have his side on the board in the first minute.
Two penalties in quick succession to Jantjies gave the Lions a brief 6-3 lead before the Highlanders struck back with the only try of the first half.
Jamie Mackintosh turned down a shot at goal from a close range penalty and from a well-rehearsed backline move Shaun Treeby cut back on the angle to score.
Sopoaga landed the conversion and two more penalties for the Highlanders to turn with a 16-9 lead
The Lions hit the front for the second time early in the second half when backrower Josh Strauss caught the Highlanders napping with a try from a quick tap penalty and Jantjies added the conversion and another penalty.
BRUMBIES VS STORMERS
The Stormers broke through for their first win in Canberra with a grinding 16-3 victory over the hapless Brumbies yesterday to keep their steady march toward the Super Rugby playoffs 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 tailend 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 center Christian Lealiifano, but went scoreless thereafter, denied time and again by handling errors and the Stormers’ miserly defense.
“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.