The Golden Lions came from behind to beat the Sharks 28-16 on Friday in a result that sees them dump their rivals out of the Currie Cup.
0-10 down at the interval, the reigning champions showed their class in the second-half with tries from Kwagga Smith, Howard Mnisi and Sylvian Mahuza securing a semi-final trip to Bloemfontein next week to face the Free State.
Jaco van der Walt and Andries Coetzee kicked five and eight points respectively in a game of two halves in Johannesburg, with Michael Claassens scoring the Sharks' only try and Curwin Bosch landing 11 points from the kicking tee.
Both sides knew it was pretty much win or bust in this match and being delayed due to Johannesburg traffic was a less than an ideal build-up for the Sharks. Ultimately the game started five minutes late which added to the tension as defending champions the Lions wanted to start.
Bosch further frustrated the home team when he slotted an easy penalty following a scrum offence on 10 minutes as the Sharks moved 0-3 ahead. Van der Walt came close to levelling though from halfway three minutes later but he was wayward to sum up a poor start from the Lions.
The importance of the game was clearly having a negative effect on the contest and the score remained at 0-3 heading into the second quarter, that was until a dominant scrum win against the head from the Sharks in the Golden Lions 22 led to Claassens darting over on the right wing.
Full-back Bosch slotted the touchline kick and with Van der Walt missing his second penalty soon after, the Sharks were smiling at 0-10.
Things were not going the Lions' way and their woes were compounded when scrum-half Ross Cronjé was a centimetre short of the line from a quick tap and go five out. Adding to their troubles was the sight soon after of centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg fumbling over the line following a strong carry, which meant the Sharks somehow managed to keep a Lions side synonymous with scoring tries having a zero by their name at the break.
Bosch built on that Sharks lead four minutes into the second period with a penalty from distance, but finally the Golden Lions' drought ended on 47 minutes when flanker Smith hit a lovely line 30 metres out before showing good pace to run in next to the uprights. It was now 7-13.
The Lions were in the ascendancy and their hopes of completing a come-from-behind win were boosted when Sharks flanker Francois Kleinhans was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on Van der Walt. The fly-half dusted himself off and landed the penalty to make it 10-13.
Bosch did manage to cancel that penalty out with three points of his own soon after, with the match now fascinatingly poised at 10-16.
The Golden Lions' quality then clicked into gear, with Anthony Volmink's initial line break leading to Mnisi crossing on the left side. The Sharks could only contain so much but with Van der Walt missing the conversion, the visitors still had a slender one-point advantage.
It would not take long for the Lions to move in front though as a change of kicker brought a change of fortunes off the tee, with the in-form Coetzee coolly slotting a penalty from 40 metres out. That moved the Golden Lions 18-16 in front with 17 minutes remaining in Johannesburg.
The next score was always going to be key and the Lions were the ones who got it through a typically brave effort. From a quick tap of a penalty in their own half a strong carry from Janse van Rensburg led to Jacques Nel setting up Mahuza for the crossing that made it 25-16 before Coetzee kicked another three points late on to seal an impressive victory.
For Golden Lions:
Tries: K Smith, Mnisi, Mahuza
Cons: Van der Walt, Coetzee
Pens: Van der Walt, Coetzee
Pens: Bosch 3
Yellow Cards: Kleinhans (50 mins – dangerous tackle), Esterhuizen (77 mins – shoulder charge
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Jacques Nel, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith (c), 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Ruan Ackermann, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 JP du Preez, 19 Fabian Booysen, 20 Stephan de Witt, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Sylvian Mahuza
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Stephan Lewies, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Garth April, 22 Neil Maritz
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Ben Crouse, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Willie Vos