Mon, Jul 18, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Golden Lions gamble backfires against Jaguares


Facundo Isa of the Jaguares, left, is tackled by Jaco van der Walt of the Lions in their Super Rugby game at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Saturday.

Photo: EPA

A Super Rugby gamble by the Golden Lions in fielding a reserve team against Argentina’s Jaguares backfired on Saturday as they lost 34-22 in Buenos Aires.

Coach Johan Ackermann rested all 15 players who started the previous weekend’s victory over fellow South Africa side the Southern Kings, fearing injuries and side effects from traveling to the Argentine capital. The Johannesburg team needed one point from the final match of the regular season to top the overall standings, but finished empty handed after surrendering a 15-12 halftime lead.

The result left New Zealand’s Wellington Hurricanes in first place as they became the top seeds and earned home advantage for the knockout phase, which begins with the quarter-finals later this week.

The Wellington team are one of four New Zealand contenders to reach the playoffs. They host the eighth-seeded Coastal Sharks of South Africa on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, the Lions tackle the Canterbury Crusaders in Johannesburg and the Western Stormers face the Waikato Chiefs in Cape Town.

The quarter-finals begin with the ACT Brumbies against title-holders the Otago Highlanders in Canberra on Friday night.

The last-eight lineup raises the possibility of all the semi-finalists coming from New Zealand, the dominant nation in the competition.

While the Lions prepared for a long, depressing flight home across the Atlantic Ocean, the Jaguares celebrated the most impressive of four victories in a 15-match debut season.

“It was a tough match and the Lions enjoyed a good first half, but in the second half we were very good and deserved our second victory in three weeks over a South African side,” said Jaguares skipper and scrumhalf Martin Landajo, who was standing in for injured hooker Agustin Creevy. “This is a wonderful climax to the season for our supporters. I am so happy that we produced such a fine performance in front of them.”

Lions skipper and scrumhalf Ross Cronje conceded that the superior side won on a bitterly cold night at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani.

“The Jaguares played for 80 minutes, but we faded after halftime and conceded far too many penalties,” Cronje said. “Our discipline slipped under severe pressure during the second half, resulting in two forwards [Cyle Brink and Lourens Erasmus] being sin-binned. We want to get home and start doing our homework on the Crusaders, who beat us in Johannesburg this season.”

No. 8 Facundo Isa was outstanding in a Jaguares pack that held their own in the opening half and took charge after the break, especially when numerically advantaged.

Fears that the absence of inspirational leader Creevy and fellow casualty, flanker Pablo Matera, would have a negative impact proved unfounded.

The Lions won the first-half try contest 2-0 and when giant winger Anthony Volmink scored his second two minutes into the second half for a 22-12 lead, it seemed the reserve-team gamble might pay off, but the South African side did not score again, while the Argentine side claimed 22 points, including tries from Isa and substitute lock Matias Alemanno, plus a penalty try.

The other 19 points came from flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, who slotted two conversions and five penalties.

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