Golden Lions led by 24 points and trailed by five before a late try from replacement forward Jaco Kriel set up a 37-32 triumph over Melbourne Rebels on Saturday in a Super 15 thriller.
Kriel got the thumbs up from the television match official after Francisco Pastrana, the first Argentine to referee a southern hemisphere provincial championship match, was unsure whether the South African had a foot in touch.
Fly-half Elton Jantjies converted from the touchline to edge the South Africans 34-32 ahead and he kicked a penalty from in front of the posts in stoppage time to finish with a 17-point haul.
Only pride was at stake in a clash of two season-long strugglers at chilly Ellis Park, and it could be the last Super 15 match at the venue for some time with Southern Kings set to replace the bottom-of-the-table Lions next season.
After dominating the opening half and leading 24-7 at halftime, the Lions trailed 32-27 with six minutes left before Kriel barged over in the corner for a bonus-point fourth Lions try that turned the tide.
“I do not know what happened to us in the second half,” confessed Lions No. 8 and skipper Josh Strauss, “but I am proud of the boys for coming back in the closing minutes and winning.”
“This was our final home match of the season and it was great to go out with a bang. Special praise must go to Elton for his fantastic conversion from the touchline to put us back in front,” Strauss said.
Veteran Rebels inside center and captain Stirling Mortlock, who retired midway through the second half, was not overly disappointed with the result on a tour that continues on Saturday against Western Stormers in Cape Town.
“This match reminded us once again that if we do not defend well in this competition, we will pay a heavy price. There were a lot of pleasing aspects, but our inconsistency is annoying,” Mortlock said.
Lions were ahead within two minutes through a try from outside center Waylon Murray and flank Derick Minnie dotted down twice with Jantjies converting both and kicking a penalty as the home team raced to a 24-point advantage.
A first half stoppage-time try from hooker Ged Robinson sparked a Rebels’ revival that continued after the break through two tries from lock Hugh Pyle and another from fly-half James Hilgendorf.
Full-back Julian Huxley converted three and kicked two penalties, while the only Lions points came from a Jantjies penalty before a late surge brought the home team only a third victory this season from 15 outings.