Makazole Mapimpi scored three tries as the Sharks held on to defeat the Lions 47-37 in a riveting encounter at Ellis Park on Saturday.
With both teams chalking up just two wins from five matches, followed by the postponement of rounds six and seven, there was little to no real hype surrounding this fixture in the buildup.
But these teams managed to produce a thrilling contest, scoring a combined eleven tries.
That said, defending seemed optional as both sets of defence appeared to malfunction at crucial times, making it much too easy for the opposition to breach the line at will.
In terms of individual performances, the Sharks’ Makazole Mapimpi was superb and bagged two tries for his efforts, while Lions wing Edwill van der Merwe was also in great form.
But the best contest was in midfield where Lukhanyo Am and Wandisile Simelane were engaged in an epic battle.
Am was at his brilliant best, exhibiting the supreme vision, skill and execution that have had him labelled by many as the best outside centre in the world. He set up fellow Springboks Aphelele Fassi and Mapimpi for tries.
And, yet, Simelane didn’t take a step back against his accomplished opponent. The young Lions centre was influential in most of his team’s scoring opportunities and was at the heart of all the good that the Lions achieved in this match.
The Sharks didn’t have the best of starts, but the Lions did. Two tries by Andre Warner and Simelane gave them a surprise 12-3 lead inside the opening 10 minutes.
Once the Sharks settled into a rhythm, though, they outplayed and outscored the hosts 24-6 in the next 30 before half time, with tries by Fassi, Mapimpi (two) and Kerron van Vuuren ensuring they had secured the four-try bonus point before the interval.
Just as the Lions fought their way back into the contest with an early score in the second half, the wind was taken out of their sails when Mapimpi scored a fortuitous try to complete his hat-trick after Rabz Maxwane’s poor attempt at a clearance kick inside the 22 flew straight at the Bok wing.
And, with the conversion, plus a penalty that followed for the Sharks, the Lions found themselves trailing by 15 points.
Having played a fast-paced game at a high level from the outset, the players’ energy levels dropped and the action faded. And it would be the Lions who found their second wind first as they crossed for two tries – courtesy of Van der Merwe and replacement Morne van den Berg – to make it a three-point game and set up a grand finale with 10 minutes to go.
With the Lions in search of a stunning upset win and the Sharks looking to close out the match, they went toe to toe in the dying stages, but ultimately it would be the Sharks who crossed for one last try – which went up to the TMO – to secure an epic victory.
And Joaquín Díaz Bonilla then stepped up to slot the touchline conversion, which cruelly denied the Lions a losing bonus point.