Johannesburg – Having trailed 19-7 at half-time, the Lions back from behind to secure a thrilling 33-29 victory over the Sharks in a Lions Challenge encounter at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Friday evening.
Prop CJ van der Linde scored a last-ditch try in the dying minutes of the game to steal victory from the Sharks, who dominated much of the fixture, but allowed the Lions back into the game.
Having taken the lead into the half-time break, the Sharks relinquished their 12 point lead, before getting back into control, only to lose out right at the end.
With the resumption of the Vodacom Super Rugby competition around the corner, following the international rugby break, the Sharks included six Springboks in their starting line-up.
The Lions, meanwhile, continued their preparations for the promotion/relegation playoff fixture against the lowest ranked South African side in this year's Super Rugby competition in July.
The Sharks were dealt an early blow when their skipper Keegan Daniel was shown a yellow card in the 13th minute for his team's persistent infringing on their try-line.
The Lions made use of their numerical advantage in the scrum straight away, as referee Lourens van der Merwe awarded the Lions a penalty try for further foul play by the Sharks shortly after, handing the hosts the early advantage.
But the Sharks responded well and dotted down four minutes later, when Louis Ludik spotted a gap in the Lions defence, whipped the ball through the hands, and sent Viljoen crashing over.
With their tails up, the Sharks kept up the pressure and five minutes later, the Durban outfit took the lead through a Dale Chadwick try, with veteran flyhalf Butch James knocking over his second conversion for the evening.
The Lions had no response and in the 28th minute, the Sharks scored their third try of the night through debutant Helmar Williams, after James showed composure to draw two defenders before finding Williams, who went over for the five-pointer.
Following a disappointing opening period, the Lions came out into the second half with real intent, as Warwick Tecklenburg was denied his try by the television match official's (TMO) ruling that he failed to ground the ball over the try-line.
But two minutes later, the Lions crashed over the line after a superb driving maul from a lineout close to the Sharks line allowed Derick Minnie to close the gap, while Marnitz Boshoff added the conversion.
The Lions had the momentum in their favour and locked their opponents out of the game by scoring their third try in the 57th minute through Ruan Combrinck, who rounded-off a flowing backline movement for the Johannesburg side.
With the scores level following Combrinck's score, the Sharks hit back straight away, sending Jandre Marais over for a try less than three minutes later, as the visitors re-gained the lead.
The Lions responded with their fourth try of the night 10
minutes later, as Willie Britz muscled his way over the line, which was confirmed by the TMO, before Marnitz Boshoff successfully converted to draw level once more at 26-26.
Sharks replacement flyhalf Fred Zeilinga knocked over his side's first penalty of the night three minutes later, handing the lead back to the coastal outfit.
But with two minutes left on the clock, the Lions, who had camped out on the Sharks try-line for the last five minutes, found a hole in the Sharks defence, as Van der Linde trotted over and scored under the posts to all but wrap up the win.
Scorers: Lions 33 (7) : Try: penalty try, Derick Minnie, Ruan Combrinck, Willie Britz, CJ van der Linde. Conversion: Marnitz Boshoff (4).
Sharks 29 (19) : Tries: Riaan Viljoen, Dale Chadwick, Helmar Williams, Jandre Marais. Conversions: Butch James (3). Penalty:
Fred Zeilinga. – Sapa