They got what they came for, but the Sharks had to work very hard for a nail-biting 32-28 win over the Lions in Jo'burg on Saturday.
They got what they came for, but the Sharks had to work very hard for a nail-biting 32-28 win over the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.
It went right down to the wire as the protagonists produced the kind of bone-crunching battle that has come to characterise games between these two teams.
In the end, the Sharks' slim hopes of making the Super 14 play-offs are still alive thanks to the bonus-point win.
Once again the Lions' defence let them down in the opening minutes as the visitors were allowed to race to 19-6 lead inside half-an-hour.
But in typical fashion, the tournament's whipping boys fought back with some classic running rugby.
Dick Muir gambled by moving Carlos Spencer to full-back in a late change and the veteran play-maker had his best game in the red jersey, playing a role in all three of the Lions' tries.
But the real story here is the resurgence of the Sharks, who, after a horrible start to their campaign are back in with a shout at making the final four. It's a long shot, but if they can produce the kind a clinical play they showed in the open stages at Coca-Cola park, they just might do it.
The loose trio in black and white were outstanding while Ruan Pienaar and Bismarck du Plessis are showing the kind of form that the Springbok selectors are looking for.
Perhaps the Sharks can be blamed for an overly cautious second half, but in these kinds of derbies it's understandable, especially considering what was at stake.
The Lions opened the scoring early on when Herkie Kruger slotted an easy penalty but the Sharks were over the whitewash a minute later as the home defence had another brain-fade and 19-year-old full-back Patrick Lambie cruised over to give the visitors the lead.
Ruan Pienaar sent over a gem of a conversion to put the Sharks 7-3 up after five minutes.
Ten minutes later the Sharks went further ahead when Andy Goode's long pass found Odwa Ndungane in aches of space and the experienced wing could jog over to extend the Durbanites lead to 12-6.
With no defence around the fringes of a ruck, Bismarck du Plessis could grab John Smit's pop pass to score the Shark's third try untouched. Pienaar's extras made the score 19-6 after just 25 minutes and the game looked over as a contest.
But the Sharks were made to think again.
Muir's gamble of playing Spencer at full-back paid dividends at the half-hour mark as the former All Black linked up with Kruger to put Michael Killian clear to score under the posts.
Amazingly the hosts closed the gap to a single point with half-time beckoning – Spencer the main instigator again – Jano Vermaak broke clear and Franco van der Merwe showed some pace and skill to finish in the corner.
Kruger's conversion sailed just wide and Pienaar added a conversion on the stroke of half time meaning the teams headed for the sheds with the Sharks leading 22-18.
The Shark's secured the bonus point early on in the second half as their loose trio set up a try for Jacques Botes, with former Lion Willem Alberts providing the final pass.
The teams exchanged penalties as the Sharks played it save to lead 32-21 going into final quarter.
Just as it looked like the Durban side had wrapped up the win, another converted try, this time by Derick Minnie after Killian drew two defenders, set up a tense finish.
The Lions were camped on the visitors try-line in the dying minutes but the Sharks held on for a crucial win with four rounds remaining.
Man of the match: Franco van der Merwe deserves a mention but we'll go with the Sharks loose trio for a combined award for a barnstorming performance.
For the Lions:
Tries: Killian, Van der Merwe, Minnie
Cons: Kruger 2
Pens: Kruger 3
For the Sharks:
Tries: Lambie, Ndungane, B. du Plessis, Botes
Cons: Pienaar 3
Pens: Pienaar 2
Lions: 15 Carlos Spencer, 14 Michael Killian, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Herkie Kruger, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Todd Clever, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (capt), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Nico Luus, 3 Gert Muller, 2 Hans van Dyk, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Hannes Franklin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Willem Stoltz, 19 Derick Minnie, 20 Chris Jonck, 21 Deon van Rensburg, 22 Tonderai Chavanga.
Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (capt).
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Andries Strauss, 22 Lwazi Mvovo.
Venue: Coca-Cola Park
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Phillip Bosch (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)