The Lions went to the top of the Africa 2 Super Rugby Conference by beating a toothless Sharks side 9-24 in Durban.
The result puts the Lions in charge of the Africa 2 Conference as they have already toured New Zealand while the Sharks have theirs ahead next week.
Away wins in Super Rugby are crucial to a team’s success but the Sharks have now suffered back to back losses at home which could ruin their campaign even if their tour to New Zealand is successful. In contrast the Lions victory is their third this season away from home.
The Lions outscored the Sharks by two tries to none in the match as the Sharks failed to take control of any facet of the game.
The match did not live up to it’s bill of being “Super” Rugby and was a bad advertisement for the game.
The high-riding Lions, who have been arguably the form South African team despite last weekend’s defeat to the Crusaders, ground their way to a vital win in an error-strewn game.
The whistle of Australian referee Angus Gardner was ever-present throughout the 80 minutes as he blew up almost every possible infringement in the law book, which contributed hugely to the lack of flow in the match.
The Sharks have been criticised for displaying very little ambition on attack this season, even though they’ve won three and drawn one out of five matches, but they made a better start in that regard when scrumhalf Cobus Reinach burst through the Lions defence in the third minute.
Lock Hyron Andrews kept the movement alive with a classy offload, but first No 8 Daniel du Preez and then fullback Willie le Roux came up just short of the try-line.
But the Johannesburg team soon got into their stride, with dominance in the scrums and at the breakdown resulting in a good supply of front-foot ball.
Fullback Jaco van der Walt broke the line from a deep run, with Jantjies finding wing Ruan Combrinck on the right flank. Jaco Kriel finished off, but the Lions were called back as Jantjies’ pass was deemed to have gone forward by TMO Marius Jonker.
But in the 14th minute, there were no such problems as lock Andries Ferreira crashed over following sustained pressure inside the Sharks 22.
A conversion and two further penalties from Jantjies took the visitors out to a 13-0 lead after 25 minutes, and it was going to be a long road back for the Sharks from that point onwards.
But Gary Gold’s men never got going due to a retreating forward pack, while they lost talismanic flank Marcell Coetzee to a serious-looking knee injury after his knee buckled under him in a tackle from Lions captain Warren Whiteley in the 32nd minute.
The Lions landed the knockout blow just before half-time when powerful outside centre Lionel Mapoe twisted his way out of André Esterhuizen’s tackle as he wasn’t held, and Mapoe got up again and dived over the line. TMO Jonker awarded the try, and with that, the Lions were in command at 18-3 ahead after 36 minutes.
Young Lions loosehead prop Dylan Smith gave Springbok and Sharks tighthead Coenie Oosthuizen an almighty work-over in the scrum, and coach Gary Gold had seen enough and replaced Oosthuizen with Lourens Adriaanse with about 40 seconds left in the first half.
The drastic move paid immediate dividends as Adriaanse won a scrum penalty right away, and Joe Pietersen knocked over a 40-metre goal-kick to reduce the deficit to 18-6 at the break.
The second half never reached the same heights of the first as both teams made a number of handling mistakes in the Durban lights, even though Pietersen landed another early penalty to take the score to 18-9.
The Sharks improved on attack when Garth April replaced the out-of-sorts Pietersen, who had a forgettable night as he made several unforced errors, with about half-an-hour to go.
The possession never turned into points, with the Sharks’ best try-scoring opportunity coming in the 53 rd minute when April sparked the move that led to a multi-phase attack that saw Le Roux and JP Pietersen involved.
But Lwazi Mvovo was held up in a maul five metres out, and the Lions cleared.
Jantjies slotted his fourth penalty with 12 minutes to go, and the Lions held out for their fourth victory of the season.
The Sharks now head off to New Zealand as they face the Blues in Auckland next week while the Lions play the Stormers.
Final Score Sharks 9 (6) Lions 24 (18)
Pen – J.Pietersen 3
Tries – A.Ferreira, L.Mapoe
Pen – E.Jantjies 4
Con – E.Jantjies
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Ref 1:Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 2:Rodney Bonaparte
TMO :Marius Jonker
15. Willie le Roux , 14. JP Pietersen , 13. Paul Jordaan , 12. Andre Esterhuizen , 11. Lwazi Mvovo , 10. Joe Pietersen , 9. Cobus Reinach , 8. Daniel du Preez , 7. Jean-Luc du Preez , 6. Marcell Coetzee , 5. Hyron Andrews , 4. Etienne Oosthuizen , 3. Coenie Oosthuizen , 2. Franco Marais , 1. Tendai Mtawarira (C)
Replacements: 16. Kyle Cooper , 17. Juan Schoeman , 18. Lourens Adriaanse , 19. Lubalolo Miyanda , 20. Keegan Daniel , 21. Michael Claassens , 22. Garth April , 23. Odwa Ndungane
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylon Smith
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Jaco van der Walt