A four-try burst in the closing stages rescued the Waikato Chiefs who salvaged a 36-29 win over the Golden Lions after trailing for most of their Super 14 encounter yesterday.
With 20 minutes remaining, the lowly Lions were ahead 29-10 and on the verge of upsetting the high-flying Chiefs.
But, as has happened before in their season, the Lions were unable to maintain the momentum and Chiefs winger Dwayne Sweeney, who ended the game with a hat-trick of tries, sparked a revival.
Although the Chiefs have been the form attacking side in the competition over recent weeks, scoring 113 points in their previous two games, they continue to be plagued by defensive weaknesses.
It was the one area they wanted to plug against the Lions, but again they let themselves down as the South African side raced to a commanding lead.
Andre Pretorius set up the Lions first try when he carved through a gaping hole in the Chiefs defensive line and sent halfback Jano Vermaak over for a try.
Stephen Donald replied with a penalty and then converted Sweeney’s first try — when he brushed aside tackle attempts by Ernst Joubert and Louis Ludik in a 40m run to the line — to have the Chiefs ahead 10-7.
It was one of the few errors by Ludik, who joined Pretorius and Henno Mentz as the standout performers in the gallant Lions back-line.
Ludik set up the next Lions try when he fielded an up-and-under and set Jaque Fourie away, and Fourie followed with his second try just before halftime when he snapped up the ball after Sione Lauaki spilled a high kick.
Pretorius converted two of the tries and added a drop goal for the Lions to turn with a commanding 22-10 advantage.
Replacement Earl Rose scored the bonus point try in the 54th minute when the Chiefs called for a scrum instead of a taking a close range penalty after Joubert was yellow-carded for playing the ball on the ground.
The Chiefs won their scrum, but Rose gambled they would spin the ball wide and ran between Callum Bruce and Richard Kahui for the intercept.
However, his 65m run to the line proved to be the catalyst that sparked the Chiefs into action.
Sweeney again capitalized on ineffectual tackling to score his second try, replacement wing Jackson Willison finished off a standard back-line move and hooker Hika Elliot barged over near the posts, with three Donald conversions putting the Chiefs back in front at 31-29.
As the Lions came back looking for a late penalty or drop goal opportunity to regain the lead, the Chiefs were able to mount one more raid which ended with a Bruce chip kick over the line and Sweeney won the race to the ball.