A powerhouse performance from 21-year-old behemoth Carlu Sadie brought a change of fortune for the Golden Lions who held off a fast-finishing Waikato Chiefs to win their Super Rugby clash 23-17 in Hamilton on Friday.
It was a well-deserved victory for the Lions after their pre-match preparations were disrupted with coach Swys de Bruin returning home just hours before kick off for personal reasons.
Sadie was all power as he used his 133 kilogram (293 lb), 1.82 metre (6ft) frame to demolish the Chiefs scrum and, not content with winning penalties, he also crashed over from close range to bag a try for himself.
It set the Lions up for a 20-0 half-time lead which they held until the final frenetic 20 minutes when the Chiefs struck back with three tries.
But the home side's hopes of snatching a late win were dashed when, with only seconds remaining, they turned over the ball and Elton Jantjies snapped over a drop goal to extend the margin to six points.
"What a game," a relieved Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said when the final whistle blew.
"In the second half (the Chiefs) put so much pressure on us it was a nail-biter. I'm so proud of the boys. It wasn't an easy week. A lot of travel and some adversity."
The Lions, beaten finalists for the past three years, have been off the pace so far this season and arrived in New Zealand off a 31-20 loss to the ACT Brumbies in Canberra and languishing at the bottom of the South African conference.
Their revival in Hamilton proved a set back for the Chiefs who felt they were turning their season around when they beat the Auckland Blues last week for their third straight win after losing their opening four matches.
Without the mercurial services of the injured Damian McKenzie, the Chiefs struggled to make their possession count and it took 60 minutes before they were able to break the Lions defence.
"If we had a few more minutes maybe we would have got it. But in that first half we gave up too much possession," said captain Brad Weber.
The Lions were up 3-0 after 10 minutes with a simple Jantjies penalty and then piled on 17 points in the closing 10 minutes of the first half.
A second Jantjies penalty, again coming after Sadie had twisted All Black prop Angus Ta’avao into submission was followed by Sadie's own try before Aphiwe Dyantyi latched on to a Warren Whiteley chip kick to score on the stroke of half-time.
The Chiefs finally put points on the board in the final quarter with tries to Sean Wainui, Nepo Laulala and Tumua Manu before running out of time.