Johannesburg – The Sharks painstakingly dismantled the Lions for a rare 25-12 away victory at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday evening, to cement their place at the summit of the log.
The coastal side took four points from the match to open a nine-point gap between them and the Bulls, the nearest South African rival on the log, while they have two points over the second-placed Brumbies, and a game in hand.
The Sharks will be disappointed about the number of wasted opportunities as they had the Lions with their backs against the wall for most of the first half.
Instead, the sides went into the half-time break 6-all with their respective flyhalves succeeding with penalty conversions.
The visitors suffered an early blow when flyhalf Fred Zeilinga left the field with what appeared to be a hamstring strain.
Sharks director of rugby Jake White should be pulling out his hair as he could potentially lose his second flyhalf of the season, following the earlier loss of Springbok pivot Pat Lambie.
The hosts also suffered an injury blow early in the match when winger Deon van Rensburg twisted his knee in contact, and was replaced by Heimar Williams who came on as substitute for the injured Zeilinga with centre Francois Steyn slotting in at flyhalf.
Zeilinga opened the scoring in the fourth minute of the encounter before he slotted another, one a minute later.
Shortly before the end of the first quarter the Lions were given a reprieve when Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis was sin-binned for a shoulder charge on Lionel Mapoe.
Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff converted the resultant penalty before he equalled the scores seven minutes before the end of the half.
The second half turned into a battle of the boot as Boshoff and Steyn exchanged penalty conversions as neither of the sides managed to pierce the defensive lines.
Steyn returned the advantage to the Sharks eight minutes after the restart, with a three-pointer and added another one in the 51st minute for a six-point lead.
The Lions came close to scoring but it was adjudged the ball was held up inside the goal area and instead Boshoff converted a penalty in the 58th minute.
Steyn returned the six-point lead four minutes later before Boshoff had another shot at goal in the 64th minute.
The tit-for-tat kicking battle came to an abrupt end when Sharks fullback Lwazi Mvovo produced a piece of individual brilliance for the first try of the match.
The flyer received the ball from a turnover and chipped the ball just outside the 22 and collected the ball shortly before the line for his five-pointer.
Steyn failed with the conversion as the Sharks held a 22-12 lead with 14 minutes remaining, but extended the lead with a penalty conversion with eight minutes left.
The Lions made a valiant attempt at erasing the deficit, but the Sharks' defence held strong to keep them out and claim a rare away victory.
Scorers: Lions 12 (6): Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff (4).
Sharks 25 (6): Try: Lwazi Mvovo. Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (2), Francois Steyn (4). – Sapa