The Lions outscored the Leopards by eight tries to five to secure a scrappy 53-36 Currie Cup victory in Johannesburg as they moved to the top of the standings on Saturday night.
After racing to a commanding 29-15 half-time lead, the Lions were at sixes and sevens as the men from Potchefstroom nearly succeeded in staging what would have been one of the most amazing fightbacks in recent times.
Late tries by prop Jacobie Adriaanse and replacement loose forward Michael Rhodes restored some dignity to the Lions who at 36-all - with ten minutes left on the clock - looked like they could lose to the minnows of the competition.
Outstanding play by young replacement flyhalf Wesley Dunlop and flank Phillip de Wet ensured that the Leopards rose to the challenge during the final 50 minutes. De Wet scored a try in each half while Dunlop's decision making was pure class.
During the second half the Lions were vulnerable on the counter attack and made a hash of nearly every kick-off they received. Their ball control also left much to be desired.
The first fault at this facet of play gave De Wet his first try while wing Wynand Willis also scored from a similar mistake just before the interval.
The Leopards taught the log-topping Lions a number of rugby lessons that highlighted the fact that there is no such thing as an easy victory in Currie Cup rugby. Coach John Mitchell's men could not have asked for a better start to the match as scrumhalf Jano Vermaak dived over in the first five minutes.
After adapting to the referee's interpretation at the tackle area, the Johannesburg side were able to convert field position into points on the board in yet another display of exciting running rugby.
Had flyhalf Butron Francis converted all his team's conversions - Francis only succeeded with half of his conversion attempts - the game could have been taken out of the visiting side's reach earlier on.
Wing Dylan des Fountain scored the second try of the match in the 12th minute as the Lions forwards started barging over the advantage line at will.
While the home side dominated in most facets during the opening half, the visitors still made good use of the few chances they had when in possession.
Wing Deon Van Rensburg scored two tries before the break and was one of the more consistent players in the Lions backline.
Credit must go to the Leopards for their fighting spirit throughout the match while the Lions will go back to the drawing board knowing that a performance of that standard will not go unpunished against the big guns of the competition.
For the Lions:
Tries: Vermaak, Des Fountain, Van Rensburg 2, Grobbelaar, Van Heerden, Adriaanse, Rhodes.
Cons: Francis 4
For the Leopards:
Tries: De Wet 2, Willis, Dames, Moolman
Cons: Du Rand 1, Dunlop 3
Pen: Du Rand
Lions: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Dylan des Fountain, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Patric Cilliers.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Johan Snyman, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Hein Cronje, 22 Jannie Boshoff/Andries Coetzee.
Leopards: 15 George Tossel, 14 Danie Dames, 13 Charl Weideman, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Wynand Willis, 10 Clayton Durandt, 9 Whestley Moolman, 8 Morné Hanekom, 7 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 6 Philip de Wet, 5 Brendon Snyman, 4 Roelof van Heerden, 3 Stephan Bezuidenhout, 2 Stoffel Duvenhage, 1 Bennie Uys.
Replacements: 16 Bêrend Botha, 17 Gavin Williamson, 18 Christo van Niekerk, 19 Juan Pretorius, 20 Theo van Wyk, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Walter Venter.
Referee: Sindile Mayende
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