Lions stun 'Landers with sensational comeback
Cape Town - A thrilling second-half comeback brought Lions a 28-23 triumph over Highlanders in Johannesburg and kept alive dreams of a maiden Super 15 play-offs place.
As it happened: Lions turn on the style to beat Highlanders
Trailing 20-3 by half-time at Ellis Park stadium, the South Africans ran in three tries after the break while restricting the New Zealanders to a drop goal.
Victory lifted the Johannesburg outfit three places on the southern hemisphere inter-provincial championship standings to seventh and the visitors remained fifth.
The top-six finishers after the 16-match league season qualify for the knockout stages of a competition won last year by Australian side New South Wales Waratahs.
After being outscored two tries to nil during the opening half by the opportunist, clinical Highlanders, the Lions triumphed thanks to excellent ball retention, timely substitutions and tenacious defending.
It was the sixth victory in seven matches for the South Africans, who were written off as likely strugglers when the season began.
Defeat spoilt an impressive recent record by the Highlanders against South African opposition, having scored 87 points in home victories over the Western Stormers and Coastal Sharks.
Winger Courtnall Skosan, flanker Jaco Kriel and centre Harold Vorster scored a try each for the Lions on a cool, clear autumn evening in the South African economic capital.
Fly-half Elton Jantjies kicked two conversions and two penalties after replacing Marnitz Boshoff, who slotted a first-half penalty.
Flanker Gareth Evans and centre Malakai Fekitoa crossed the try-line for the Highlanders during an impressive first-half showing by the New Zealand south island side.
Fly-half Lima Sopoaga kicked two conversions, a penalty and a drop goal and full-back Ben Smith also slotted a drop goal.
After Boshoff kicked a long-range penalty on six minutes, Highlanders scored 20 unanswered points before the break.
Sopoaga equalised via a 22nd-minute penalty and put the Dunedin outfit ahead on the half hour with a drop goal.
A clever change of attacking direction by scrum-half Aaron Smith set up Evans to score and Fekitoa darted 60 metres to dot down when Highlanders secured turnover ball.
An inside break by Vorster played a key role in Skosan going over far out on 46 minutes and Jantjies converted only for Ben Smith to slot a drop goal.
But the remaining 28 minutes belonged to the Lions and, after scoring two more tries, they edged ahead 10 minutes from time via a Jantjies penalty.
Highlanders replaced Sopoaga with Marty Banks, but it was rival playmaker Jantjies who had the final say with another penalty three minutes from time.