After his team's stunning victory in last year's final, Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph's last year in charge has ended in a semifinal defeat, but there is no bitterness as he plans for a new challenge in Japan.

In the wake of the Lions' 42-30 victory in Ellis Park, Joseph perhaps could have been forgiven for criticising a travel schedule which had his men go from South Africa to Argentina, to New Zealand, to Australia and back to South Africa again in recent weeks, but there was none of that, only a satisfaction that the Highlanders had performed to the best of their abilities.

The Lions certainly deserved their victory on the highveld, and they will get their chance in next Saturday's competition showpiece against the Hurricanes in Wellington, a point observed by Joseph afterwards.

"You have to give credit where it's due, we played a very good team, certainly worthy final contenders," he said. "There are no fairytales in sport, you have to earn the right to be in a final and we were beaten by a better side on the day.


"We're certainly not going to use travel as an excuse. From the outset we planned around it. We rested players, we rested our All Blacks from Argentina. We did what we could with the circumstances and the structure of the competition."

With first-five Elton Jantjies, who scored the game's first try, in inspirational form for the Lions, the Highlanders were on the back foot from the start.

The Lions' line speed on defence caused the Highlanders problems, and they suffered a big blow when wing Patrick Osborne left the field injured in the first half. With first-five or fullback Marty Banks and halfback Te Aihe Toma the Highlanders' only backs on the reserves bench, they missed Osborne's punch on the left wing, and loose forwards Dan Pryor and Liam Squire didn't provide the impact off the bench that Joseph might have liked.

The home side had a big advantage in the scrum and at the breakdown, led by flanker Jaco Kriel, coped comfortably with the absence of loose forward and regular skipper Warren Whiteley.

"They had the wood on us there [the scrum], the breakdown was another one," Joseph said.

Joseph will move to Japan in September to coach the national team, with assistant Tony Brown teaming up with Mark Hammett from next season.