The Lions edged the Highlanders 38-29 in a 10-try thriller at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.
Both teams scored five tries in a tight but thrilling contest; the lead changed hands several times before Courtnall Skosan’s last-gasp score settled this enthralling Super Rugby clash in the City of Gold.
It was the Lions‘ first win in four Super Rugby home matches against New Zealand opposition
Kwagga Smith scored twice and set-up Andries Coetzee’s first-half leveller as the Lions held off the Highlanders.
Elton Jantjies was instrumental throughout, conducting the Lions’ high-tempo game.
He had a hand in all four of his team’s tries and kicked 13 points in a flawless kicking display.
Two tries in quick succession by Jordan Hyland and Matt Faddes gave the Highlanders a slim one-point lead, going into the final quarter.
Jantjies soon restored his side’s lead with a rare penalty in the 63rd-minute.
Josh Ioane cancelled out Shaun Reynolds’ score with less than five minutes remaining.
Daniel Hollinshead’s conversion brought the New Zealanders to within two points of their first win in Johannesburg since 2005 when they beat the now-defunct Cats.
Had Ioane and Hollinshead’s kicking been better, the Kiwis might have left with the points.
It was not to be for the Landers, chasing their sixth victory in their last eight games in South Africa, as Skosan’s 80th-minute dagger ended this Battle Royale.
Tit for tat as both teams trade blows
The tourists got off to a great start when Patelesio Tomkinson finished in the corner after some quick thinking by Aaron Smith.
Smith took a quick-tap penalty after his side won a penalty at the breakdown.
The ball was shifted wide through the hands to Teihorangi Walden, who put Tomkinson away.
Ioane missed the sideline conversion, but his side had put down a marker.
The Lions hit back and took the lead thanks to a break by Kwagga Smith.
The sevens specialist redeemed himself after a previous handling error killed a promising scoring opportunity.
He broke from the halfway line to the 22, bumping off a defender before sending Coetzee away to level.
Coetzee cut inside Faddes’ cover tackle and swallow-dived over the whitewash.
Jantjies wasted no time with the conversion to give his side the lead.
The Highlanders were struggling with the opposition’s up-tempo game.
The Lions were taking quick throws and running from their 22, trying to catch the Kiwis off guard.
Another overthrown lineout from Malcolm Marx killed a promising attack.
Referee Rasta Rasivhenge had to warn Luke Whitelock for multiple infringements at the previous ruck, maul and lineout.
The Highlanders almost made their hosts pay for their sloppiness, but they knocked on with the try-line beckoning.
The Lions won a scrum-penalty and cleared.
It was end-to-end as both sides increased the tempo
Faddes’ handling error, after Hyland’s sideline break, cost his team five points.
Marx won a trade-mark penalty at the breakdown, but the Highlanders hit back with a try, soon afterwards.
Faddes was ankle-tapped, five metres out. The ball was recycled quickly to the left before Ioane danced inside the defence to put Tom Franklin over from close range.
The Lions struck on the brink of halftime.
Skosan bounced off a defender, Coetzee went close but was stopped short.
Franklin was lucky he was not yellow-carded for deliberately knocking down Jantjies’ pass.
Marvin Orie picked up the rolling ball and popped it inside to Smith, who handed off a defender to score his side’s second.
Jantjies’ conversion restored his team’s lead.
Both teams continue to trade blows after the interval
Hyland and Faddes both crossed inside four minutes as the Highlanders regained the advantage.
The 29-year-old’s try came from sustained pressure inside the Lions’ 22.
The left-wing expertly dotting down inside the corner flag after Tomkinson, off the right wing, held up the defenders and put his partner away.
More Aaron Smith quick-thinking set-up the next score.
Smith picked up a loose ball at the back of an uncontested ruck and raced into enemy territory before offloading to Faddes.
The fullback sped away down the sideline, beating Kwagga Smith to the chalk.
Hollinshead, who had taken over kicking duties, missed again, but the visitors led by one.
Reynolds came off the bench to extend the Lions’ lead after a Jantjies penalty put the home team ahead.
Aaron Mauger’s men kept coming, but a late knock-on from Hyland killed any chance of a first victory over the Johannesburg franchise in the form of the Lions.
Skosan finished off the Kiwis soon afterwards, to the delight of the fervent home support, to keep the Lions in the hunt for a playoff berth.
Final Score: Lions 38 (14) Highlanders 29 (12)
Tries – Coetzee, Smith (2), Reynolds, Skosan
Pen – Jantjies
Con – Jantjies (5)
Tries – Tomkinson, Franklin, Hyland, Faddes, J. Ioane
Con – J. Ioane, Hollinshead
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Ref 1: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Ref 2: Griffin Colby
TMO: Willie Vos
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi; 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (Captain), 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Vincent Tshituka, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Tyrone Green.
15 Matt Faddes, 14 Patelesio Tomkinson, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Jordan Hyland, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Shannon Frizell, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Luke Whitelock (captain), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Daniel Hollinshead, 23 James Lentjes.