A try on the stroke of full-time by Lions captain Franco van der Merwe, handed his team a crucial 22-20 Currie Cup win over the Sharks.
A controversial try on the stroke of full-time by Lions captain Franco van der Merwe, handed his team a crucial 22-20 Currie Cup win over the Sharks on Saturday.
It was a match the hosts had to win to keep their semi-final chances alive, and even though the grounding of the ball in Van der Merwe's score was dubious, you couldn't say the Lions didn't deserve the victory.
The Sharks will no doubt feel aggrieved that the try was given, but can't complain too much after Lwazi Mvovo's second touchdown was also questionable after the TV replays indicated the winger put a foot in touch on his way to the try-line.
But since it was a try apiece where the teams enjoyed some good fortune, it was left to a last minute conversion for young Lions fly-half Elton Jantjies to steal the victory following a strong, late charge from the home side to wrestle the win when it appeared that the Sharks might be able to hold out against their sustained attack.
However, despite the win, the Lions remain in fifth position on the log and the Sharks are still the leaders.
The visitors couldn't have asked for a better start to the game when Mvovo scored with just a minute of play on the clock after a superb break-out and some excellent, strong running down the touchline.
Although Patrick Lambie hit the posts from bang in front, the signs pointed to a domineering performance from the Sharks looking to emulate their first round match where they ran out 48-19 victors in Durban.
To make matters worse for the home side, they lost hooker Martin Bezuidenhout for punching Alistair Hargreaves and was lucky not to get a red. But despite being a man down, the Lions managed to pull back a penalty during the 10 minutes of the sin-binning.
For the next 15 minutes the teams hammered away at each other, especially on defence where the tackling was committed and ferocious, forcing errors from both sides as the pressure told.
While the Sharks had slightly more possession, most of the direct rugby was played by the Lions and Jantjies missed an opportunity when he too struck the upright from a penalty.
The Sharks returned and looked very dangerous, but once again handling let them down on the Lions' try-line. After another multi-phase Sharks attack, a dropped pass fell into the hands of a Doppies la Grange 5m from his own line. The hosts countered rapidly, another feature of their play this season, and with Jannie Boshoff feeding Jaco Taute, the full-back finished off under the poles.
The Sharks replied through Mvovo's brace, and even though the visitors had dominated possession, they were lucky to head into the shed level at 10-all. Mvovo again showed impressive pace and strength, but he had clearly placed a foot out in the build-up, but the assistant referee inexplicably missed the act.
Former Sharks centre Waylon Murray rounded off some good attacking play by the Lions nine minutes after half-time, but Jantjies again missed the conversion – his fourth from six attempts (15-10).
Lambie missed another Sharks penalty on a day the two young fly-halves would rather forget, but Odwa Ndungane made up for his pivot's blunder by running in an easy try with 25 minutes remaining.
This time Lambie's kick from near touch was good and the Sharks went back into the lead (17-15). The lead stretched to 20-15 after the Lions were pinged at the ruck in their own 22.
However, with the win still anyone's for the taking, the Sharks survived a torrid last ten minutes while Ryan Kankowski's ill-discipline for stomping on a player saw him miss the final four minutes.
The Lions confidence to run everything at the 14-man Sharks brought reward with 30 seconds of the match remaining. Van der Merwe, who toiled throughout, was the player who drove over – and although it wasn't the most difficult of kicks, Jantjies looked relieved after he converted to give his side the four points.
Try:Taute, Murray, Van der Merwe
Cons: Jantjies 2
Tries:Mvovo 2, Ndungane
Yellow cards: Bezuidenhout, 1 min (Lions, punching), Kankowski, 76th mins (Sharks, stamping)
Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joshua Strauss, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe (c), 4 George Earle, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Wayne Swart, 18 Johan Snyman, 19 Trevor Hall, 20 JP Joubert, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Deon van Rensburg.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche (c), 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Eugene van Staden, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Patric Cilliers
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Michael Rhodes, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Andre Pretorius, 22 Riaan Swanepoel.