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Super Rugby relegation play-off: Lions earn 2014 spot despite losing to Kings
The Lions narrowly held on to regain their Super Rugby status despite losing 23-18 to the Southern Kings at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Tries from flankers Derick Minnies and Jaco Kriel combined with eight points from the boot of Elton Jantjies were enough to see the Lions to victory, as they earned a place in the 2014 Super Rugby competition with a 44-42 aggregate victory.
The Johannesburg side held the advantage having won the first leg of the play-off 26-19 and Johan Akermann's troops were made to fight till the very end as Schalk Ferreira and Scott van Breda scored two late Kings tries.
Port Elizabeth-based franchise the Kings entered the second-leg knowing they had a seven-point deficit to overturn and winger Van Breda wasted little time as he successfully split the uprights twice in the opening 15 minutes.
Akermann's Lions continued to lack discipline at the breakdown and gifted Van Breda a third opportunity to kick at goal but the 21-year-old failed to hit the target with the ball sailing right.
The Lions were presented chances to get on the scoreboard as the visitors conceded two penalties in quick succession, but the hosts squandered the first with fly-half Elton Jantjies sending his kick left before slotting home at the second time of asking.
Despite the Kings enjoying the majority of possession and territory, the Lions closed the gap to just once point at the break after a maul drove the hosts close before Minnie's touchdown was approved by television match official Shaun Veldsman.
Jantjies, who started the season in Super Rugby with the Stormers, extended the Lions' lead for the first time shortly after the restart with another three-pointer from the tee.
The Lions' domination showed as they spent sustained periods camped in the Kings' half with little reprieve for Alan Solomons' men, who could find no escape route.
As the pressure mounted, the Kings defence soon buckled as flanker Kriel charged over the line to score before Jantjies' conversion gave the Lions control of the fixture, and a 16-point aggregate lead.
The Kings refused to back down however and their resilience was rewarded when Ferreira crossed the line off the back off a maul before Van Breda's conversion put the visitors within two points.
With just nine points between the sides on aggregate, the Kings continued to press forward and it paid dividends when Scott van Breda raced down the right wing to score and added the extras to take the visitors within two points of retaining their place in Super Rugby.
The siren was imminent as the Kings strived for two more points, but it was ultimately the resilience of the Lions defence in the closing seconds which earned Akermann's side a place in the top flight.
Overall victory means the Johannesburg-based franchise will now regain their place in the Super Rugby competition while the Kings, who only joined at the start of the 2013 campaign, will now drop out.
The Lions will hope they can launch a stronger bid for the South African conference in 2014 after the Kings could only muster three victories, which saw them spend the majority of the season rooted at the foot of the table.