The Lions became the first team to qualify for the 2016 Super Rugby play offs by beating the Sharks 37-10 with a bonus point and taking an unassailable lead in Africa 2 conference.
The Sharks on 35 points in the standings have matches against the Cheetahs and the Sunwolves remaining but even if they take bonus point wins from both matches they could only reach 45 points.
The result moves the Lions up to first place overall on 47 points so the Sharks cannot catch them which makes the Lions Africa 2 Conference winners and that guarantees them a place at home in the play offs.
The Lions play the Southern Kings next week in Johannesburg and then finish the regular season against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires. Next week the Sharks play the Cheetahs at home in Durban.
The Lions outscored the Sharks by five tries to two in the match. Lions captain and tryscorer Jaco Kriel was named man of the match.
In the first half, the Sharks had to contend with a spate of Lions attacks which produced four tries to lay the foundation for an eventual bonus-point win and a much deserved one too.
The Sharks bounced back late in the second half with two unconverted tries but it was not enough to force the Lions to surrender their bonus point. The Lions who ran out with seven Springboks in their ranks sounded a Super Rugby championship challenge with this performance.
The game started at a frenetic pace with both sides looking to bring their forwards into the attacks at every opportunity. The tactic did not allow the teams to make an early breakthrough but the Lions looked the more threatening.
Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies opened the scoring via a penalty in the eighth minute and then moments later his halfback partner Faf de Klerk opened up the Sharks defence with a clever box kick which the Sharks No 9 Michael Claassens failed to field. Lions rightwing Ruan Combrinck was up in a flash to clean up and score his side’s first try (8-0).
The Sharks were never allowed to settle down as the Lions kept building pressure with a sequence of power surges which was stretching the opposition defence to its limits.
After absorbing a fair bit of pressure, the Sharks defence cracked after good work by the Lions duo, Courtnall Skosan and eighth man Ruan Ackermann. Centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg joined the breakdown play before he peeled off for a try in the 25th minute (13-0).
By this time, the Lions were outmuscling the Sharks who suffered more bad luck when their defence was again undone by the bounce of the ball. Ackermann was again prominent in the build-up work and this time, he handed hooker Malcolm Marx a scoring pass (18-0). Jantjies finally managed a conversion even though it was from the touchline (20-0).
Five minutes ahead of the break, leftwing Lwazi Mvovo had the Sharks supporters on the edge of their seats when he sparked a raid in the channel out wide with a terrific turn of pace. After he left a few Lions tacklers floundering in his slipstream he reeled out a poor pass to fullback Odwa Ndungane who spilt the ball some 20m out from the tryline.
On the stroke of halftime, the Lions struck back with their fourth first-half try through the hardworking Ackermann who ranked among the stand-out players in the opening stanza. Jantjies added the extra points via the conversion and the teams returned to the change-rooms with the Lions holding a commanding 27-0.
The Sharks needed a monumental effort to save the game and although they continued to campaign fiercely they had no answer to the effervescent Lions who stretched their lead out to 37-0 just ahead of the hour mark. Jantjies goaled a penalty and then stand-in skipper Jaco Kriel steamrolled his way over for the Lions’ fifth try, which was converted.
The Sharks produced a well-worked team effort for a Mvovo try in the 61st minute. Flyhalf Garth April failed to add the conversion (37-5).
Seven minutes later, the Sharks kept the scoreboard ticking with a driving maul which paved the way for a try by substitute hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle (37-10).
All that remained now was for the Lions to hold on to their 5-2 try count as their bonus point was left hanging on a knife edge. And they did so in fine style as they shaped two or three promising sorties near the end.
Final Score Lions 37 (27) Sharks 10 (0)
Tries -R. Combrinck,R. Janse Van Rensburg, M. Marx, R.Ackermann, J.Kriel
Pen – E.Jantjies 2
Con -E.Jantjies 3
Tries – L.Mvovo, C.Ralepelle
Attendance : 33862
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Ref 1:Quinton Immelman (South Africa),
Assistant Ref 2:Lesego Legoete (South Africa)
TMO :Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Dylan Smith , Malcolm Marx , Julian Redelinghuys , Andries Ferreira , Franco Mostert , Jaco Kriel , Warwick Tecklenburg , Ruan Ackermann , Faf de Klerk , Elton Jantjies , Courtnall Skosan , Rohan Janse Van Rensburg , Lionel Mapoe , Ruan Combrinck , Andries Coetzee
Replacements : Armand Van Der Merwe , Corne Fourie , Jacques van Rooyen , Lourens Erasmus , Cyle Brink , Ross Cronje , Howard Mnisi , Sylvian Mahuza
15. Odwa Ndungane , 14.S’bura Sithole , 13. JP Pietersen , 12.Paul Jordaan , 11. Lwazi Mvovo , 10. Garth April , 9. Michael Claassens , 8. Philip van der Walt , 7. Jean-Luc du Preez , 6. Keegan Daniel , 5. Stephan Lewies , 4. Etienne Oosthuizen , 3. Lourens Adriaanse , 2. Franco Marais , 1. Tendai Mtawarira (C)
Replacements : 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle , 17. Thomas du Toit , 18. Coenie Oosthuizen , 19. Ruan Botha , 20. Tera Mtembu , 21. Stefan Ungerer , 22. Rhyno Smith , 23. Heimar Williams