Lions captain JC Janse van Rensburg praised the courage and character of his team as they registered a crucial away win in the first leg of their Super Rugby promotion-relegation series against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
The Lions will now host the second promotion-relegation next Saturday after the Super Rugby final at 17:00 South African time at Ellis Park in Johannesburg.
The Lions lost their Super Rugby status this year to the Kings, beat their hosts in Port Elizabeth 19-26 to take a massive advantage into the second leg.
The Kings, though, picked up one bonus point for ending within seven points of the Lions' score.
Van Rensburg, whose team have not had many tough matches recently, said it was the most physical game they had played this season.
"Yes, it was definitely a tough, physical game and we made a lot of mistakes in the first half, but hats off to our team for the guts they showed tonight (Friday)," Janse van Rensburg said.
The Lions tested the Kings' defence, one of the Eastern Cape franchise's outstanding assets this season, he said.
"We worked hard to attack their defence because we knew it was very good and in the second half it went well.
"We showed a lot of character and we fought for each other.
"Now we are looking forward to Ellis Park, which suits our game, and we will have 40 000 fans behind us this time."
For Kings skipper Darron Nell, it was a tough pill to swallow, but he took some solace from the fact they had earned a bonus point.
"That bonus point was the at least something," Nell said, "and now we know what we have to do -- win by more than seven points -- and we must plan accordingly."
He paid tribute to the Lions for their efforts, while adding that the Kings' attacking moves were not as clinical as they should have been.
"The Lions did very well, they kept the ball better than we did and we didn't get our set phases right to get into the game. So that is something we need to get work on and get right for next week," Nell said.
"I think we can just look at where we went wrong and work on those things, and that should help our game massively. I thought the guys played well at stages but there were times, on attack, when we weren't great."