Lions stage dream comeback against unbeaten Rebels
Rookie flyhalf Gianni Lombard kicks winning penalty to grab the points
That the result of this match rested on the accuracy of one kick was perhaps unfair on everyone here. Least of all on the Lions' young replacement flyhalf Gianni Lombard.
The rookie, who was on for Elton Jantjies who was substituted with 10 minutes to go, took his time as those in attendance were reduced to a hush and no nails left to gnaw. Lombard, with a delayed approach, struck the ball sweetly through the middle of the uprights to hand the Lions one of the most unlikely wins you will see.
The clichéd "game of two halves" doesn't begin to convey what transpired here. The Lions were dead and pretty much buried at 33-5 after 43 minutes but they staged a comeback that tops even the 22-3 deficit they overturned against the Hurricanes in their splendid rearguard action in the semi-final in 2017.
The Lions, wholly outplayed in a dreadful first half punctuated by error and misadventure, found their mojo in the second half, but not before the Rebels streaked even further ahead immediately after the break.
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They were staring down both barrels and few held out hope for a miraculous revival, but the hosts' forwards with Kwagga Smith, Marnus Schoeman, Carlu Sadie and Malcolm Marx leading the charge, slowly but inexorably found a foothold as the Rebels were pushed onto the backfoot.
With the sudden surfeit of possession rookie fullback Tyrone Green and centre Wandisile Simelane also started sowing the seeds of a comeback. Green was a live wire but the player who brought real spark was substitute centre Lionel Mapoe, who gave shape and impetus to that earlier belief.
The Lions built pressure and the Rebels were forced into penalties and ultimately lost Billy Meaks to a yellow card. It proved costly. While he served his temporary banishment Meaks could only watch on as the Lions ran in three tries.
The crowd was in raptures as Lombard struck the winning penalty but the Lions are in need of much revision before they take on the Sunwolves in Singapore next week.
The well organised and drilled Rebels were alert and quick to any opportunity that fell their way. They had greater clarity in their game plan.
Not that the Lions should have been complacent. The Rebels arrived here as one of only two teams still unbeaten in this season's Super Rugby competition and for the first half hour the visitors showed what has earned them the right to be mentioned in the same breath as the Crusaders as the only unbeaten teams.
When the Lions got themselves into promising positions they fluffed their lines. They lost their capacity to maul. Their driving maul proved ineffectual against a well organised unit.
The Rebels got onto the board with remarkable ease as Will Genia doubled around before skip passing to the unmarked Reece Hodge, who went over in the corner.
They scored four more tries before the Lions staged a comeback for the ages.
Lions - Tries: Malcolm Marx, Marnus Schoeman, Andries Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalty: Gianni Lombard.
Rebels: Tries: Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Billy Meaks, Isi Naisarani, Tom English. Conversions: Cooper (4).