Lloyd Burnard - Ellis Park
Johannesburg - A superb Lions comeback saw them overturn a 19-point deficit to beat the Hurricanes 44-29 in a thrilling Ellis Park semi-final on Saturday.
They will now host the Crusaders in next week's final in what will be coach Johan Ackermann's final match in charge of the franchise.
For most of the first half and some of the second it looked like this would be Ackermann's last game as the 'Canes raced to a 22-3 lead. Instead, it was like there was a supernatural force at play as the Lions, somehow, fought their way back to a truly historic win.
It took them a long time to get going, possibly because this was the first time they had played New Zealand opposition this year, but once they found their feet towards the end of the first half the Lions were a side oozing confidence and class.
Elton Jantjies had been given some harsh public treatment after missing four kicks against the Sharks last weekend, but he had no problems with his first effort of the afternoon as he put the hosts 3-0 up.
But the flyhalf immediately came crashing back down to earth when it was his loose pass from a set play that was pounced on by TJ Perenara.
The Hurricanes scrumhalf stabbed ahead twice, running half of the length of the field to dive over.
Jordie Barrett missed a relatively easy conversion, but the 'Canes were 5-3 up.
There was nothing fortuitous about the Hurricanes' second try.
Beauden Barrett, almost effortlessly, sliced through the Lions defence following a backline move, creating acres of space.
His pass to the left found wing Wes Goosen, who cantered over the line untroubled.
12-3 down after just 11 minutes, the Lions needed some stability.
They managed to work through a few phases in the 'Canes half, making some ground along the way, but as soon as they lost possession they were scrambling again.
A Jordie Barrett penalty made it 15-3, and the task got even tougher.
It seemed like every time the Hurricanes got the ball, points were a possibility. The Lions, meanwhile, were struggling to get into the right areas of the field and errors were plaguing their game.
Kwagga Smith then smashed Jordie Barrett in the right corner with a try-saving tackle that kept his side alive.
The Ellis Park crowd was getting frustrated, particularly with some of referee Jaco Peyper's calls, and they were irate when Ross Cronje lost control of one that bounced the way of Ardie Savea.
The Hurricanes No 7 ran through unchallenged to score under the posts, and at 22-3, things were getting messy for the hosts.
If they were to stand any chance, the Lions needed points before half time, and they had their opportunity as the break approached.
Camped on the Hurricanes line, the hosts set up a rolling maul that had the 'Canes moving backwards and Ellis Park on its feet.
The 'Canes defence looked to be holding out after the Lions bashed away at their line, and it took a moment of sheer power from prop Jacques van Rooyen to barge over and give the Lions a lifeline.
Jantjies added the two, and at 22-10 down the Lions could at least go into half time with something to hold onto.
By the end of the first period, the Lions had missed a whopping 15 tackles and that, combined with their errors on attack, left them lucky to be just 12 points behind.
They needed something special in the second half, and they got off the best possible start.
Peyper finally pinged the 'Canes for off-side, and Jantjies set up a lineout on the opposition 22.
When Cronje dummied right and darted over the line, the hosts were believing again.
Jantjies slotted another good kick from out right, and the scoreboard read 22-17.
The Lions were a different team in the second half, and they had completely erased the deficit when Malcolm Marx crashed over from another dominant rolling maul.
Jantjies missed the conversion, but it was 22-22 and it felt like the tide had turned.
Cries of "Lions, Lions, Lions!" roared around the stadium, but those chants were almost immediately silenced when Ngani Laumape rounded off a move down the right that was all too easy for the 'Canes.
The conversion was good, and the visitors had a 29-22 lead.
There was a massive moment just before the hour mark when Beauden Barrett was yellow-carded for an infringement on the ground.
Jantjies knocked over the resulting penalty to make it 29-25, and the match was set up for an enthralling finale.
The Lions had their tails up, and against 14 men their intensity was on another planet compared to where it was in the first half.
They bashed their way up the field at pace, tackled for their lives when defending and when Harold Vorster broke through to score on 62 minutes, they had the lead for the first time since that early Jantjies penalty.
The Lions flyhalf added the extra two, and it was 32-29 to the hosts.
Jantjies then brought the house down when he scored, and converted, a try of his own.
With 10 minutes to play, the Lions had gone from being a side one punch away from being knocked out cold to having a relatively comfortable 39-29 lead.
The Hurricanes, shell-shocked, had no answer.
Smith recieved a pass from replacement hooker Akker van der Merwe to score his side's sixth and get the party started in Johannesburg.
The Lions army marches on, and next weekend is set to be one of the biggest days in South African Super Rugby history.
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Lions 44 (10)
Try: Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith
Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4)
Penalties: Jantjies (2)
Hurricanes 29 (22)
Tries: TJ Perenara, Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape
Conversions: Jordie Barrett (2), Beauden Barrett
Penalty: Jordie Barrett
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 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Substitutes: 16 Akker vd Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Wes Goosen, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Ben May
Substitutes: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Julian Savea