The Sharks were made to work very hard for a 19-17 Currie Cup win over the Lions in Durban on Saturday.
A Ruan Pienaar penalty eight minutes from time gave the Sharks a valuable win as the Lions pushed their hosts to the very limit.
With Western Province having won with a bonus point earlier in the day, the Sharks were under pressure to score four tries to retain their lead in the race for top spot in the standings.
But bonus points were no were to be seen as the Sharks relinquished the tournament lead on points difference
For the Lions, the result means they have no hope of making the semi-finals.
While the Lions trailed the more fancied and Springbok-laden team by only five points at the break, they won the second half 6-3 but fell short by an agonising two points in the final analysis.
"We knew defence will have to be good but we showed there's a lot to play for the team and we showed that the Lions have a good feature," said Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar.
The Sharks, who struggled throughout to shake off the physical approach of the Lions, led 16-11 at the break.
Both teams scored only one try, both in the opening stanza, but the gutsy Lions had to make about twice as many tackles as the home team.
The Lions, however, lead 17-16 with 15 minutes left in the game after scrumhalf Chris Jonck justified the visitors' never-say-die approach by putting his team back in the lead with a well-taken penalty, rewarding his forwards for a mammoth performance.
The Lions were not overawed by a Sharks team loaded by Springboks but the visitors showed the national players no respect and produced a display that made the union proud.
Evident from the tough encounter Lions fly-half Herkie Kruger, was replaced by Ruan Boshoff in the 54th minute, and left the field with his left eye almost closed, while Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar had to leave the field with his face covered in blood.
Sharks scrum-half Ruan Pienaar, entrusted with the goal-kicking duties again - taking over from Puma flyhalf Juan Hernandez- got matters going with a fourth-minute penalty after Lions skipper Cobus Grobbelaar was penalised by referee Jonathan Kaplan to lead by 3-0.
Six minutes later Pienaar was on target again when the Lions other flank Derick Minnie was blown up and the Sharks lead
increased to 6-0.
But then the visitors showed they had come to play when Lions fly-half Herkie Kruger converted a penalty after Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis was penalised and two minutes later Lions number Chris Jonck silenced the home fans with the first try of the game after centre Doppies la Grange, ripped open the Sharks midfield defence; Kruger failed to convert and the Lions had their tails up: 8-6.
The Lions missed a golden opportunity to increase their lead in the 20th minute when Kruger missed his second penalty attempt and minutes later Le Grange secured another telling line break only for the Lions to fail to capitilise.
Hernandez put the Sharks back in the lead at 9-6 with a neatly struck drop goal in the 33rd minute, while Lions lock Nico Luus was yellow-carded in the 37th minute after repeated warnings by Kaplan for transgressions at the breakdowns.
Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis eventually scored the hometeam's only try from the ensuing ruck with Pienaar deadly on song with the boot andconverting the conversion from the touchline.
Kruger converted his second penalty on the stroke of halftime to keep the Lions in touch at 11-16 and two minutes after the break Kruger kicked his third penalty to reduced the hometeam's lead even further to 14-16.
Jonck put the Lions ahead to set ups agrandstand finish with Pienaar keeping his cool to finally hand the Sharks victory.
For the Sharks:
Try: B. du Plessis
Pens: Pienaar 3
For the Lions:
Pens: Kruger 3, Jonck
Yellow cards: Luus (Lions -37th min - repeated infringement)
The Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche (c), 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Juan Hernandez, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Keegan Daniel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Albert van den Berg, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Skipper Badenhorst, 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Johann Muller, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Adrian Jacobs.
Lions: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Michael Killian, 13 Jannie Boshoff, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Johan Jackson, 10 Herkie Kruger, 9 Chris Jonck, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar (c), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Nico Luus, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Hans van Dyk, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Torrie Meyer, 17 Wayne Swart, 18 Willem Stoltz, 19 Todd Clever, 20 Ruan Boshoff, 21 Walter Venter, 22 Pieter Engelbrecht.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan