The Rebels have never beaten the Emirates Lions in Vodacom Super Rugby and on Saturday afternoon that seemed to be changing when they raced into a commanding 33-5 lead shortly after the break of their match at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg.
The Highveld side made far too many mistakes in the first half and their defensive line was broken four times in the opening stanza, allowing the Melbourne outfit to build a solid 26-5 halftime lead.
Malcolm Marx, hooker and captain, scored the home team’s only try in the first half, but they fell further behind just two minutes after the restart when Rebels outside centre Tom English easily went over for the visitors’ fifth try of the afternoon.
The introduction of a host of replacements off the bench, especially experienced fullback Andries Coetzee, sparked some much needed urgency into the home side. The Rebels’ composure also fell away and they conceded far too many penalties and committed a heap of errors, allowing the red and white jerseys to cash in on their try account.
Marnus Schoeman (flank), Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe (centre) and Courtnall Skosan (wing) each scored a try, while Elton Jantjies added the extras with his conversions.
It was the home side who finally settled this error-strewn encounter in their favour when Lombard slotted the winning penalty after the siren had sounded to complete an improbable but thrilling comeback-win.
The Emirates Lions now travel to the Far East to play Japanese side the Sunwolves in their next game.
Emirates Lions 36 (5) – Tries: Malcolm Marx, Marnus Schoeman, Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalty goal: Gianni Lombard.
Rebels 33 (26) – Tries: Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Billy Meakes, Isi Naisarani, Tom English. Conversions: Cooper (4).