The Lions failed to progress to the quarter-finals after succumbing to a 48-27 defeat by the playoffs-bound Vodacom Bulls at Loftus on Saturday.
The result confirms the 2019 quarter-final lineup. The Crusaders will host the Highlanders, the Jaguares welcome the Chiefs, and the Bulls will travel to the Hurricanes with the Sharks facing the Brumbies away.
The Lions narrowly missed out on a spot in the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.
The entertainment level of this match puts the earlier war of attrition between the Stormers and Sharks to shame. It was every bit as enjoyable as the derby at Newlands was dismal and a great advert for free-flowing and innovative play, but not for the art of defending.
It was a game of two distinct halves as the breathless first stanza produced 50 points – and amazingly no scrums – and the second only 25 points.
In a wild start, the sides went blow for blow with two early tries before the Bulls pulled away on the scorecard. From the initial kick-off, the Bulls defence was picked off by a dazzling run from Aphiwe Dyantyi who found Hacjivah Dayimani.
The No 8 raced down field and while he couldn’t outdo the chasing Rosko Specman for pace, he outmuscled him with a lethal hand-off for the fastest try of the season after just 15 seconds.
The Bulls responded with a seven-pointer to even things up, before the visitors regained the lead thanks to a penalty from Elton Jantjies. But they would soon relinquish the advantage as the Bulls became stronger, bolder and started to play with more conviction.
The hosts proceeded to score three unanswered tries coupled with a three-pointer from Handre Pollard, while the Lions could only manage two extra penalties and a drop goal from Andries Coetzee to trail 31-19.
With a mountain to climb at the restart, the Lions enjoyed another dream start, adding eight points to their tally while the Bulls were down to 14. But that was where their comeback started and stopped.
With openside flank Marco van Staden dominating the breakdowns, the Bulls refused to let the Lions back into the contest. They chalked up three more tries to make sure the Lions didn’t get within the desired seven-point losing region, which would have seen them advance to the knockout stage.
Bulls – Tries: Hanro Liebenberg, Marco van Staden, Lizo Gqoboka, Burger Odendaal, Cornal Hendricks, Handre Pollard, Manie Libbok. Conversions: Pollard (5). Penalty: Pollard.
Lions – Tries: Hacjivah Dayimani, Cyle Brink. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (4). Drop goal: Andries Coetzee.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard (c), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Eli Snyman, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Tyrone Green, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Elton Jantjies, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Rhyno Herbst, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Malcolm Marx (c), 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: Jan-Henning Campher, Nathan McBeth, Johannes Jonker, Reinhard Nothnagel, Marnus Schoeman, Dillon Smit, Wandisele Simelane, Courtnall Skosan.
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images