A brilliant break by Wandisile Simelane set up Tiaan Swanepoel for a victory-sealing try as the Lions defeated the Sharks 27-12 Saturday in the South African Currie Cup.
The outcome of the fourth round match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg hung in the balance with eight minutes remaining and the Lions ahead by eight points.
After the hosts gained possession off a scrum, a ruck developed in midfield before some slick passing sent centre Simelane clear and he dodged numerous tackles before sending full-back Swanepoel clear.
Captain and fly-half Elton Jantjies converted and there was no way back for the Sharks, who began the match second on the table but dropped to third after the loss as the Lions leapfrogged them.
The Bulls have 35 points, Lions 29, Sharks 28, Western Province 26, defending champions Cheetahs 21, Pumas 12 and Griquas seven with the top four finishers securing semi-finals places.
An outbreak of Covid-19 in the Bulls camp, affecting an undisclosed number of players and management, led to the cancellation of their match against the Griquas in Kimberley and the points were shared.
Simelane brought desperately needed excitement to a dour match dominated by the goal-kicking of Jantjies, Swanepoel and Sharks fly-half Curwin Bosch.
Jantjies slotted three penalties and a conversion from five attempts and Swanepoel, whose speciality is long-range shots, kicked two penalties.
Winger Courtnall Skosan was the other try scorer for the in-form Lions, who have won all four matches this season in the oldest domestic rugby competition in the world.
Bosch took advantage of playing at an altitude of 1,753 metres (5,751 feet) to succeed with penalty kicks from 60 and 57 metres, and kicked two others from shorter distances.
- 'Constantly improving' -
"We are a constantly improving team and our forwards were outstanding tonight," said Jantjies ahead of a top-of-the-table clash with the Bulls in Pretoria next Saturday.
Sharks captain and centre Lukhanyo Am hailed the Lions: "They played really well, putting us under pressure at the set pieces and on the scoreboard."
In Mbombela, the Cheetahs put heavy losses to the Bulls and the Lions behind them as they edged the Pumas 35-31 in a 10-try feast.
Eight of the tries were scored by forwards, including two from Cheetahs flanker and man of the match Andisa Ntsila, and six resulted from driving mauls.
Only one of the nine try scorers at Mbombela Stadium, Pumas flanker Daniel Maartens, had scored previously this season.
"I am growing tired of telling you guys (the media) after almost every Currie Cup match that we could have won," said Pumas skipper and lock Pieter Jansen van Vuren.
He was referring to the disastrous goal-kicking of fly-half Devon Williams, who fluffed four of five attempts before substitute scrum-half Ginter Smuts took over and succeeded with his two kicks at goal.
All Currie Cup matches are played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus.