JOHANNESBURG, March 16 (Reuters) - Replacement flyhalf Gianni Lombard kicked a penalty after the hooter as the Lions staged a remarkable second-half fightback to secure a 36-33 Super Rugby victory over the Melbourne Rebels at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The visiting Rebels led 33-5 with 30 minutes to play but, following a yellow card for centre Bill Meakes, the home side came roaring back to score 31 unanswered points and steal the win.
The Lions turned down three kickable penalties in the dying minutes but forced a scrum penalty after the 80-minute mark with the Rebels pack down to seven players after flank Angus Cottrell was sent to the sin bin.
The home side shoved the Rebels off their own ball and when referee Egon Seconds blew for a penalty, Lombard, 21, held his nerve to kick the ball between the posts from a difficult angle.
The Rebels were let down by poor discipline, not only suffering their two yellow cards but also a negative penalty count of 20-1. They were perhaps fortunate, indeed, not to see more players sin-binned.
“It was not the best start, but in the second half we had nothing to lose. We came out and played the rugby we are used to playing and it worked,” Lions captain Malcolm Marx said.
“In the second half there was a lot of running rugby and that is what we are known for. We will enjoy this one tonight.”
The home side were desperately poor in the first half as handling errors and missed tackles allowed the Rebels to assume control.
Tries for wing Reece Hodge, flyhalf Quade Cooper, centres Meakes and Tom English and number eight Isi Naisarani had them all set for a first ever victory over the Lions in Super Rugby.
They were full value for their lead and controlled the game after falling behind to an early Marx try, but when Meakes was sent to the sin-bin on 50 minutes after repeated infringements from his side, the momentum swung to the Lions.
Flank Marnus Schoeman scored a fifth try of the season, before replacement fullback Andries Coetzee, centre Lionel Mapoe and wing Courtnall Skosan scored to level the scores, allowing Lombard to win the game late on.
“It’s incredibly disappointing, coming out at halftime it would have been difficult for the Lions to gain momentum,” Rebels stand-in skipper Will Genia said.
“I feel like we were unlucky with a few decisions in the game, but that is not to take anything away from the Lions. But we will bounce back in Durban (against the Sharks) next week.” (Reporting By Nick Said; editing by Tony Lawrence)