SOUTH AFRICA – Golden Lions surrendered a 19-point lead after hooker Robbie Coetzee was red-carded and crashed 47-31 to new South African Currie Cup leaders Sharks in Johannesburg Saturday.
Golden Lions take on the Cell C Sharks in the Currie Cup tonight. Come and catch this game on our big screens! pic.twitter.com/pmXO1ZTtli— Ridgeback Village (@RidgebackV) August 12, 2017
It was the second weekend in a row that the Lions had a forward sent off with the dismissal of Kwagga Smith contributing to the Super Rugby final defeat by Canterbury Crusaders.
Lions were playing for the first time under new coach Swys de Bruin, who took over last Monday from Gloucester-bound Johan Ackermann.
Experienced campaigner Coetzee was shown the red card on 51 minutes after accidentally kicking try scorer Jacques Vermeulen in the face.
Sharks fly-half Garth April converted the try, leaving the Sharks trailing 31-12 at Ellis Park stadium in the South African financial capital.
Reduced to 14 men, the Lions were immediately forced on to back foot and relentless Sharks pressure yielded five more tries for a bonus-point trumph.
Forwards played pivotal roles in the dramatic turnaround with substitute prop John-Hubert Meyers barging over for the try that brought the teams level with 13 minutes left.
April converted for a 33-31 lead and man-of-the-match award winner Vermeulen struck again six minutes from time to stretch the lead to nine points.
Sharks completed the most dramatic comeback so far this season in the competition when another forward, veteran Keegan Daniel, dived over.
Lions dominated the first 40 minutes in cool late southern hemisphere winter conditions and scored four tries to create a 24-5 half-time advantage.
When loose forward Fabian Booysen scored another try for the Johannesburg outfit five minutes into the second half, they led by 26 points and seemed set for a convincing victory.
Lions skipper and number eight and former Shark Ryan Kankowski admitted the red-carding of Coetzee had a crucial bearing on the round 5 clash.
"A good team will punish opponents playing with 14 men and that is what happened to us. We were not the same side after Robbie was sent off."
Sharks skipper and lock Ruan Botha said: "We showed a lot of character to win three matches within eight days. After a horrible first half, the boys dug deep to triumph."
Sharks have 20 points, Free State Cheetahs 16, Griquas 13, Blue Bulls and Western Province 11, Lions nine and Pumas six approaching the halfway stage of the regular season.
The best four finishers after a double round advance to the semi-finals of the 126-year competition, the oldest national provincial ruggy competition in the world.
Record 33-time champions Province led Bulls by 29 points at half-time, then survived a second-half battering to emerge 45-34 victors at Newlands stadium in Cape Town.
Province played the last five minutes a man short after substitute prop Martin Kumbirai was yellow-carded, but several handling errors prevented the Bulls getting even closer.
Visiting Griquas, for many years the Currie Cup whipping boys, shocked title-holders Cheetahs by winning 30-25 in central city Bloemfontein.
Trailing by 11 points at half-time, Griquas rocked their neighbours in the second half with substitute number eight De Wet Kruger scoring two tries and fly-half Andre Swarts one.