Western Province face the daunting prospect of hosting the Blue Bulls next week after losing 27-25 to the Golden Lions in Johannesburg.
The visitors knew that only a maximum victory would see them avoid meeting the Springbok-filled Super 14 champions at Newlands.
But that they could not achieve as their play-off task of claiming four tries, which would see them face the Cheetahs, fell just short in a fascinating 80 minutes of Currie Cup rugby.
Province did however, enjoy the dream start on Saturday by crossing the whitewash within a minute of referee Marius Jonker blowing the first whistle.
A beautiful counter-attacking move saw the ball moved between several pairs of visiting hands before centre Juan de Jongh did well to powerfully cross, with Joe Pietersen confidently converted.
The in-form full-back was once again in electrifying form for Allister Coetzee by kicking, running and being superbly creative all afternoon in the capital.
His first penalty of the contest came following opposing number ten Herkie Kruger's three points on six minutes. Then the former's attacking threat came to the fore.
Once again it was another flowing move that brought about the five points before Pietersen demonstrated his solid boot from hand to pin the Golden Lions back downfield.
That was the only outlet for Province on the half-hour point with Cobus Grobbelaar's charges beginning to win the territorial battle - one sensed a score was not too far in coming.
And that it did on 34 minutes when the pressure finally paid off for the hosts in the shape of a converted Doppies la Grange try that brought them back to 10-17.
Their second try soon followed just on half-time with the inside centre at it again as the sides went in with just three points separating matters.
Province needed to step up another gear and it didn't take long for that man Pietersen to find a metre of space from deep down the right wing, almost setting up lock Andries Bekker but for him being hauled down with the line in sight.
That missed opportunity subsequently proved costly when the busy Dusty Noble scooted over on 56 minutes, with the Lions taking the lead for the first time in Johannesburg.
Was there to be a response from the Cape Town outfit?
Indeed there was as flanker Francois Louw's crossing with twelve minutes remaining set up a grandstand finish before Chris Jonck sent over a long-range penalty, which proved the eventual turning point as WP now must get set for Victor Matfield and company.
Tries: La Grange 2, Noble
Con: Kruger 3
Pen: Kruger, Jonck
For Western Province:
Tries: De Jongh, Pietersen, Louw
Con: Pietersen 2
Pen: Pietersen 2
Lions: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Dusty Noble, 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 Michael Killian.
Western Province: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Frikkie Welsh, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson (c), 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Anton van Zyl, 3 JC Kritzinger, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Wicus Blaauw.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 JD Moller, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Pieter Louw, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Matt Toomua, 22 Gio Aplon
Referee: Marius Jonker