Elton Jantjies missed a last minute conversion as the Lions slumped to a one-point loss in controversial circumstances against the Highlanders in Dunedin, losing 23-22.
Jantjies' kick landed just short of giving his team a win, but it was the fact that the Highlanders had advanced before he kicked – normally grounds for him to be allowed to retake the kick – which wasn’t subsequently awarded that will forever go down in the minds of Lions supporters.
There was no way that the kick should not have been retaken, as pretty much every Highlanders’ player advanced before Jantjies had started his run-up. But referee Angus Gardiner decided not to, just as he and the television match official decided not to award a try minutes earlier.
It was a cruel end to a game where the Lions were horrible in the first half, but sorted themselves out at halftime to storm back into the game and give themselves a chance for victory, only to be denied by some poor officiating.
To be honest, Jantjies could have landed the kick the second time, but if Marnitz Boshoff had succeeded with two easier conversions earlier in the game, they might not have found themselves in the same position when it mattered.
The Highlanders will also argue that their second half slump was because they just returned from South Africa, and the long travel took an effect later in the game.
At least for the Lions they will not be seen as cannon fodder as they head to Sydney next week, as they showed that they can turn a game around when the odds are against them.
Still, there will be a number of questions at Sanzar’s door about that last kick and whether or not it should have been taken again, while Highlanders prop Chris King should expect a call from the citing officer after a blatant elbow to the face of Warren Whiteley that cost him a yellow card and could easily cost more.
To say it was a game of two halves would be an understatement, with the Lions unable to convert possession into points in the first half, and everything the Highlanders touched turning to gold. It was almost exactly the opposite in the second half, as the Lions stormed back into the game and the home side faded.
Still it wasn’t the start that the Lions wanted as Boshoff missed an easy one on one in the third minute against Richard Bachman which allowed the winger to dart in at the corner. It was a simple defensive error that proved so costly and put the Lions on the back foot immediately.
Flyhalf Hayden Parker quickly stretched that lead with a penalty and a drop goal before another defensive error cost the Lions another try. Aaron Smith gathered a loose grubber from the Lions on attack, kicked it downfield with Lionel Mapoe coasting to try and retrieve it. Buckman pinned his ears back and passed Mapoe, beating the defenders to the ball in the in-goal area for his second try of the night.
And the Lions were to suffer another blow just before halftime as Gavin Evans went in at the corner after a Ben Smith break to give the home side a 23-0 lead at halftime.
The Lions hit back just after the break as Stefan Watermeyer came close after a good maul by the forwards, and Faf de Klerk gathered and dived over from the ruck to put them on the scoreboard.
King’s yellow card was next, although if the prop sees the replays he might reconsider shaking his head at the card, as it was blatant foul play and could easily been a red card.
The Lions weren’t able to capitalise in his absence, but shortly after his return, they surged forward, with Warren Whiteley and Boshoff getting them on the front foot before Whiteley sent the ball to JW Jonker, who drew the man and gave an exceptional pass to Mapoe to get on the board.
The Lions caught the Highlanders defence napping as they looped around the front of a line-out and Whiteley put replacement prop Armand van der Merwe down the touchline, bouncing off a poor tackle from Aaron Smith as he scored on debut.
They were then denied when Tecklenburg looked to have touched the post with the ball from close range, but many replays couldn’t show it conclusively, even though just about everyone, including the television commentators thought the try had been scored, so Tecklenburg was denied.
The Lions did get the try minutes later when Skosan crossed in the corner, but with the conversion needed to win the game, Jantjies missed as the home team advanced and should have been given another chance.
He wasn’t and the Highlanders sighed with relief, knowing the ref had given them a get out of jail free card this time.
Highlanders - Tries: Richard Buckman(2), Gareth Evans. Conversions: Hayden Parker. Penalty: Hayden Parker. Drop-goal: Parker.
Lions - Tries: Francois de Klerk, Lionel Mapoe, Armand van der Merwe, Courtnall Skosan . Conversion: Marnitz Boshoff.