Gianni Lombard came off the bench to kick a winning post-siren penalty and complete a comeback from 28 points down as Lions snatched a remarkable 36-33 Super Rugby victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Johannesburg Saturday.
Australians Rebels looked set to humiliate the South Africans in round five when they scored their fifth try to lead 33-5 just three minutes after half-time at Ellis Park.
It took a 50th-minute try from flanker Marnus Schoeman — his fifth of the season — to shake up a home team who had allowed the Rebels to run up what looked like an unassailable lead.
Further Lions’ tries from man-of-the-match Andries Coetzee and Lionel Mapoe cut the gap to seven points midway through the second half, before Courtnall Skosan crossed under the posts for a fifth Lions try on 64 minutes, leaving Elton Jantjies with a simple conversion to equalise.
Having surrendered a mammoth lead by conceding four converted tries, the rattled Rebels were reduced to 14 men when Angus Cottrell was shown a yellow card three minutes from time.
The Lions were camped deep in Rebels’ territory and when the visitors were penalised for illegal scrumming on their put-in, youngster Lombard became the match-winner.
Stepping into the shoes of substituted Jantjies, the 21-year-old replacement watched anxiously as he kick initially appeared to be going too far right before swinging in between the posts.
AFP / Christiaan Kotze Lions move up five places to fifth in the combined standings after their remarkable victory
The final whistle sounded immediately, triggering scenes reminiscent of a Super Rugby final as the Lions rushed to hug and congratulate Lombard.
Lions hooker Malcolm Marx, standing in as skipper for injured Warren Whiteley, refused to say if the second-half revival had been triggered by half-time tongue lashing.
“We had nothing to lose and went for it,” was his terse explanation. “We believe in running rugby and it brought us success.”
Rebels skipper and veteran scrum-half Will Genia admitted to being “incredibly disappointed” as the Rebels lost for the first time this season after three victories.
“I felt we were unlucky with a few decisions that went against us, but that should not take away from a remarkable comeback by the Lions.”
The Lions rose five places to fifth in the combined standings while the Rebels remained third overall and leaders of the Australian conference.
Marx, Schoeman, Coetzee, Mapoe and Skosan scored tries for the Lions, Jantjies kicked four conversions and Lombard slotted the only penalty of the match.
Rebels’ try scorers were Reece Hodge, Cooper, Billy Meakes, Isi Naisarani and Tom English with Cooper kicking four conversions.