The Lions re-ignited their Currie Cup aspirations with a morale-boosting come-from-behind 22-19 victory over Western Province at Ellis Park on Saturday evening.
Locked at 19-all with a minute to play, in a heart-stopping moment, captain Elton Jantjies handed new fullback Tiaan Swanepoel the ball. He kept his nerve, stepped up, and landed a last-gasp penalty to snatch victory after the hosts had trailed for much of the match.
Not only had the Lions unearthed a new long-range goal-kicker in Swanepoel, but their four point harvest from the match also moved them past the Free State Cheetahs into fourth position on the log, just a single point behind their opponents, Province.
The Lions only try of the game came 10 minutes from the final siren after a superb tap-and-go effort by wing Stean Pienaar which Jantjies converted, to leave the sides level-pegging and with all to play for in the critical final stretch.
After trailing the entire match until they eventually crossed the Province tryline, the Lions had only clawed their way back in the last quarter, chiefly due to an injection of fresh legs from the bench, as the visitors began to tire and feel the effects of the high altitude
The first try of the game only came 12 minutes into the second period via speedy winger Seabelo Senatla, to steer the men in the blue hoops into a 19-9 lead and the Lions knew they would have to muster something special to get something out of the game.
Province’s well-organised rush defence kept the home side in check and at least twice, with the Lions camping on their goal-line, the visitors managed to turn over vital possession with centre Ruhan Nel preventing what looked like a certain try as the pressure mounted.
The Lions had also come close to a try in that period of sustained pressure when livewire centre Burger Odendaal intercepted a misguided pass, but referee Griffin Colby called them back for an earlier infringement, with the advantage in favour of Province.
The Capetonians had done well earlier to create scoreboard pressure when they increased their lead to 12-6 just after the break, forcing the home team to play catch-up rugby after they had missed a second penalty attempt.
While Province took a slender 9-6 lead into the break in a tryless first half, the home team emerged from their dressing room more fired-up and were more innovative, putting pace on the ball and stretching the Province defence with very little reward.
The game had seen a scrappy and error-ridden start, with Province putting the heat on the Lions scrum. A monster 60-metre penalty by Currie Cup debutant Swanepoel, however, provided one of the few highlights of the half.
With the scrums having been a big talking point prior to the game, Province got the early ascendancy there after Lions tight-head Ruan Dreyer twice got blown up for over-extending and it didn’t make things any easier as the Ellis Park turf began breaking up after some heavy overnight rain.,
Lions: Try: Stean Pienaar, Conversion: Elton Jantjies, Penalties: Tiaan Swanepoel (5)
Western Province: Try: Seabelo Senatla, Conversion: Tim Swiel. Penalties: Swiel (4).