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Lions cling on for victory

Published 11/04/2015

The Harden Cup, which has been a knock-out competition between the winners of the six Junior Divisions, will in future be automatically awarded to the winners of Division 1
The Harden Cup, which has been a knock-out competition between the winners of the six Junior Divisions, will in future be automatically awarded to the winners of Division 1

Sharks fly-half Fred Zeilinga missed a last-minute penalty as the Lions held on to beat their South African rivals 23-21 in Johannesburg to earn their fourth straight Super Rugby victory.

The Lions appeared to be cruising to victory, having fought back from 14-11 down at half-time to lead 23-14 early in the second half, but a late Thomas du Toit try set up a grandstand finish at Ellis Park.

Zeilinga was handed a last-gasp opportunity to win the game for the Sharks but his penalty drifted wide to hand the hosts their fifth win of the season.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann made four changes to the side that edged a tight contest against the Bulls last weekend, with Mark Richards making his Super Rugby debut on the left wing.

The Sharks were routed 52-10 by the Crusaders last time out and coach Gary Gold responded by making no fewer than six changes.

Lions fly-half Elton Jantjies spurned the chance to put his side into the lead when he pushed his fifth-minute penalty wide but made no mistake six minutes later after Sharks tight-head prop Dale Chadwick was pinged for illegal scrummaging.

Zeilinga could have restored parity in the 13th minute when the Lions' tacklers were penalised for offside play but he missed his first penalty chance and Jantjies made it 6-0 to the Lions on 19 minutes.

Their lead lasted only another two minutes as Renaldo Bothma capitalised on a fine break from Andre Esterhuizen to crash over in the corner and Zeilinga added the extras to put the Sharks 7-6 ahead.

Lwazi Mvovo grabbed the Sharks' second try on the half-hour mark when he showed good pace on the wing to easily outpace a scrambling Lions' defence and Zeilinga kicked the conversion to extend their lead to 14-6.

The Lions hit back on the stroke of half-time when Howard Mnisi showed good strength to crash over for his side's first try despite the attention of two Sharks tacklers.

The Lions needed just four second-half minutes to get their noses in front as Francois de Klerk sold Odwa Ndungane a dummy pass to dive over after a devastating run from Ruan Combrinck.

Jantjies added the conversion and the Lions were celebrating once again three minutes later when Harold Vorster spotted a gap in the Sharks defence and fended off Waylon Murray before dotting down in the corner.

The Lions had scored 12 unanswered points by that stage and the Sharks' misery was compounded on the hour mark when Esterhuizen was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Combrinck.

But no points were conceded while Esterhuizen was off the field and Du Toit set up a tense finish when he crashed over two minutes from time and Zeilinga kicked the conversion to reduce the Lions' lead to two points.

Referee Stuart Berry handed Zeilinga the chance to snatch a Sharks victory at the death but he dragged his penalty wide to spark celebrations by the home fans.

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