The Lions claimed a shock 38-28 victory over South African rivals the Sharks in a result that severely dents the visitors' conference hopes.
The Lions claimed a shock 38-28 win over South African rivals the Sharks on Saturday in a result that severely dents the visitors' conference hopes.
It was a titanic meeting that saw the Lions go in at half-time 32-11 up before an early second-half revival heightened the probability of a comeback.
But in the end the much-improved Lions held on for a result that propels them off the bottom of the Super Rugby table, above the struggling Blues.
The Sharks came into the fixture on the back of encouraging performances, not least their most recent 25-20 win over the Stormers in Durban. However they had not foreseen such a wounded animal being in their path as the hosts recaptured the form that saw them lift the 2012 Currie Cup.
So impressive was their first-half showing that they had the try bonus-point locked up before the interval as Grant Hattingh, Derick Minnie, Lionel Mapoe and Deon van Rensburg all crossed to accompany 12 points from Elton Jantjies' boot.
The Sharks drew first blood through a Pat Lambie penalty just 20 seconds into the game. But then the Lions pounced via Hattingh, who collected a chip from Jantjies before grounding on three minutes. Three minutes after that another score came as Minnie managed to get over the line after TMO confirmation.
Jantjies continued his good form with the boot, trading penalties with opposite number Lambie to keep the Lions' lead at 17-6 halfway through the first 40 in Johannesburg.
However, the hosts continued in their impressive fashion and were over again when Mapoe broke the Sharks' line superbly, diving over for his side's third and an impressive one at that.
With 35 minutes gone, the Sharks sent the ball wide through the backline after a scrum inside the Lions territory with Lwazi Mvovo beating one man to dot down for the Sharks first try. Lambie missed the extras but his kick was not to be the last action of the half as Van Rensburg scored the Lions' bonus-point try with 90 seconds to the half-time interval.
Two tries in two minutes of the second-half from JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane brought the visitors right back into contention, with the Lions struggling to match the frenetic pace.
Jantjies, who scored 18 points in the gmae, slotted another penalty to ease the concern, leaving the Sharks 10 points behind with just 25 minutes left to play at Coca-Cola Park.
The Sharks were angered by referee Garrat Williamson in the 59th minute when he refused to award the visitors a penalty after Fred Michalak appeared to have been tackled off the ball.
The game then entered a lull, but with four minutes to play – the Sharks still trailing 38-28 – the TMO was called into action a third time as Louis Ludik dived over, but the try was not awarded and the Lions held on to win and also deny the Sharks a losing bonus-point.
Tries: Hattingh, Minnie, Mapoe, Van Rensburg
Con: Jantjies 3
Pen: Jantjies 4
Tries: Mvovo, Pietersen, Ndungane
Con: Lambie 2
Pen: Lambie 3
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (c), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Ruan Combrinck.
Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (c), 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Marius Joubert, 22 Louis Ludik.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha (South Africa), Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)