Johannesburg - The Waratahs kept alive their hopes of making the 2009 Super 14 play-offs with their third win on their South African tour when they came from behind to overcome a spirited Lions side 38-33 in Johannesburg on Friday night.
Four soft tries in the first 33 minutes set up the Waratahs win, but their 14-0 lead became a deficit in the second half with the winning points only coming in the 75th minute.
And even then it was not the end of the drama as the Lions' impressive centre Deon van Rensburg was pulled back for a forward pass after expiry of game time after dotting down.
Poor discipline on attack and defence saw the visitors score their sorely needed bonus point try after 33 minutes and 10 seconds after the Lions had fought back well from 14-0 down to trail by only a single point after 22 minutes.
But again it was the Lions penchant to run from where most sides would seek safety; a deep put-in on their own tryline that allowed Phil Waugh - technically off-side - to score; and poor handling, defence and options, that gave the visitors the leeway which stood at 28-13 at the break.
Doppies la Grange tried and was impressive at times in that first half. Jano Vermaak, but for a charged-down kick, was good again. But it was simply too easy. With some good play intertwined with what was often nothing less than stupid play, they gave the visitors what they wanted: five tries and a bonus point win to put more pressure on other sides to make the semifinal, including the Sharks.
It also made the Brumbies early also-rans.
A second converted try by Vermaak just after the break pulled the home side back to 28-20. It was his fourth in three matches, with one each in the preceding two.
There is not much better than the red-haired Lions scrumhalf, but Springbok coach Peter de Villiers stated policy of keeping with the players who served well in the past - in stark contrast to the British and Irish Lions coach Ian McGeechan to select on form and discard last year's heroes - must make Vermaak realise that Ricky Januarie will be called off the Stormers bench for Springbok duty.
The Lions were fighting back - as they did last week from a huge deficit to win. At 28-20 to the Waratahs, it suddenly looked better for the Lions - and when Andre Pretorius slotted his second drop after 43 minutes and then a penalty after 50, the Lions were only 28-26 behind - and the game was on.
The home side took the lead through a converted try by Willem Alberts after some good driving play from the forwards (33-28) just for the Waratahs' Daniel Halangahu to shrink the gap to 33-31 with 13 minutes remaining.
Then some poor tackling by the Lions and outstanding patience in the build-up by the Waratahs saw replacement Tom Carter score a superb try under the posts (38-33).
That put the Waratahs in fourth place on the Super 14 log and they seemed assured to keep alive their dream of a title and putting pressure on the Hurricanes and Crusaders to win their matches on Saturday to make the play-offs.
But it seemed in vain when Van Rensburg went over near the posts with the match time expired. He was called back by referee Marius Jonker for a forward pass, and that was that: the Lions had lost their ninth match of a dismal season - and have won only 11 matches from 39 in the past three seasons - and the Waratahs were still alive in the competition.
Scorers: Lions: tries: Jano Vermaak (2), Willem Alberts. Conversions: Andre Pretorius (3). Penalties: Pretorius (2). Drop goals: Pretorius (2).
Waratahs: Tries: Lachlan Turner, Dean Mumm, Phil Waugh, Peter Playford, Tom Carter. Conversions: Daniel Halangahu (5). Penalty: Halangahu.