Turns out these Lions can play.

We could not be 100 percent sure until we saw them face a New Zealand side. But they engineered a rousing comeback to sink a tiring Hurricanes and force an historic first Johannesburg Super Rugby final, against the Crusaders next Sunday morning (NZT), ensuring they are the first side from the Republic since the 2009-10 Bulls to qualify for the Super Rugby decider in consecutive years. They also inflicted just the fourth loss by a foreign team on a New Zealand outfit this season.

They were led by ubiquitous opensider Kwagga Smith, of Blitzbokke fame, who seemed to be everywhere, in the mould of Uli Schmidt in the 1993 Super 10 final against Auckland, and No 10 Elton Jantjies, who brought his kicking boots this week and collected 19 points.

Even the second half injection of the likes of Julian Savea and Ricky Riccitelli - Dane Coles played around 65 minutes to mark his 100th game - could not stem the tide for the Hurricanes, who just looked out on their feet by the final whistle.

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It was a high octane, high intensity encounter befitting a semifinal.

The first half saw the Hurricanes firing with the intent of blowing the Lions off the park. They did, at 22-3, but could not push on with it and Lions loosehead prop Jacques van Rooyen scored a critical try just before the break to reduce the deficit to 22-10.

Prior to that, some sweet Hurricanes' handling and dexterity had seen the visitors' backs cutting loose. TJ Perenara scored his 44th Super Rugby try, pouncing on a Lions' scrum error to show his speed and skill. Beauden Barrett, who edged closer to 1000 points in the competition, made a searing break off a set-piece move to set up wing Wes Goosen, and Ardie Savea bolted 30m from a ruck turnover. But, save for a second half score to Ngani Laumape for his 15th of the season, equalling the Super Rugby record, the Hurricanes could get little going in the second stanza.

After Beauden Barrett was sinbinned, perhaps harshly, it all unravelled at an alarming rate.

"We just didn't come out and do what we were doing in that first half, and they got a bit of momentum on, and took it right to us," Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles said.

"They just kept going to the 80th minute and we couldn't really stop their momentum, their attack. We gave it everything we've got."

Lions 44 (Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Kwagga Smith tries; Jantjies 4 con, 2 pen)
Hurricanes 29 (TJ Perenara, Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea, Ngani Laumape tries; Jordie Barrett 2 con, pen, Beauden Barrett con)
HT: 22-10