Cape Town - The Golden Lions came from behind to beat the Sharks 28-16 on Friday in a result that should see them dump their rivals out of the Currie Cup.
0-10 down at the interval, the reigning champions showed their class in the second-half with tries from Kwagga Smith, Howard Mnisi and Sylvian Mahuza securing a semi-final trip to Pretoria next week when they face the Blue Bulls.
Jaco van der Walt and Andries Coetzee kicked five and eight points respectively in a game of two halves in Johannesburg, with Michael Claassens scoring the Sharks' only try and Curwin Bosch landing 11 points from the kicking tee.
Both sides knew it was pretty much win or bust in this match and being delayed due to Johannesburg traffic was a less than an ideal build-up for the Sharks. Ultimately the game started five minutes late which added to the tension as defending champions the Lions wanted to start.
Bosch further frustrated the home team when he slotted an easy penalty following a scrum offence on 10 minutes as the Sharks moved 0-3 ahead. Van der Walt came close to levelling though from halfway three minutes later but he was wayward to sum up a poor start from the Lions.
The importance of the game was clearly having a negative effect on the contest and the score remained at 0-3 heading into the second quarter, that was until a dominant scrum win against the head from the Sharks in the Golden Lions 22 led to Claassens darting over on the right wing.
Full-back Bosch slotted the touchline kick and with Van der Walt missing his second penalty soon after, the Sharks were smiling at 0-10.
Things were not going the Lions' way and their woes were compounded when scrum-half Ross Cronjé was a centimetre short of the line from a quick tap and go five out. Adding to their troubles was the sight soon after of centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg fumbling over the line following a strong carry, which meant the Sharks somehow managed to keep a Lions side synonymous with scoring tries having a zero by their name at the break.
Bosch built on that Sharks lead four minutes into the second period with a penalty from distance, but finally the Golden Lions' drought ended on 47 minutes when flanker Smith hit a lovely line 30 metres out before showing good pace to run in next to the uprights. It was now 7-13.
The Lions were in the ascendancy and their hopes of completing a come-from-behind win were boosted when Sharks flanker Francois Kleinhans was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on Van der Walt. The fly-half dusted himself off and landed the penalty to make it 10-13.
Bosch did manage to cancel that penalty out with three points of his own soon after, with the match now fascinatingly poised at 10-16.
The Golden Lions' quality then clicked into gear, with Anthony Volmink's initial line break leading to Mnisi crossing on the left side. The Sharks could only contain so much but with Van der Walt missing the conversion, the visitors still had a slender one-point advantage.
It would not take long for the Lions to move in front though as a change of kicker brought a change of fortunes off the tee, with the in-form Coetzee coolly slotting a penalty from 40 metres out. That moved the Golden Lions 18-16 in front with 17 minutes remaining in Johannesburg.
The next score was always going to be key and the Lions were the ones who got it through a typically brave effort. From a quick tap of a penalty in their own half a strong carry from Janse van Rensburg led to Jacques Nel setting up Mahuza for the crossing that made it 25-16 before Coetzee kicked another three points late on to seal an impressive victory.
Tries: K Smith, Mnisi, Mahuza
Cons: Van der Walt, Coetzee
Pens: Van der Walt, Coetzee
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruaan Lerm, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Kwagga Smith (captain), 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 JP du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith
Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Fabian Booysen, 19 Cyle Brink, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Howard Mnisi, 22 Sylvian Mahuza
15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit
Substitutes: 16 Franco Marais, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Stephan Lewies/Jean Droste, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Garth April, 22 Wandile Mjekevu