JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- The Lions won back their place in Super Rugby despite losing 23-18 to the Southern Kings in the second leg of their South African promotion-relegation playoff on Saturday.
The Kings dropped out of the southern hemisphere rugby competition after just one season and following a stirring comeback to win away at Ellis Park. Agonizingly for the Kings, it just wasn't by enough points.
Both teams finished level on log points following the two-game series having won one game each and both taken a bonus point from their loss, eventually leaving the Lions to prevail on points difference.
The Johannesburg-based Lions took the first leg at the Port Elizabeth-based Kings' Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium by 26-19 last week for an overall points total of 44 in the two-game series. The Kings finished with 42 points and had needed just one more score of any kind in the final six minutes of Saturday's game to retain their place in Super Rugby.
The Lions will be South Africa's fifth team in the 2014 season and rejoin the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Cheetahs having been dropped from the competition last year for the Kings without a playoff.
The Kings faced the promotion-relegation contest as the last-placed South African team in the season's standings. They will have to play another season back in domestic competitions before getting another chance at Super Rugby in a playoff against South Africa's bottom-placed team next year.
Both teams scored two tries on Saturday, with flankers Derick Minnie and Jaco Kriel going over for the Lions to help them to a healthy 18-9 lead with around 15 minutes to play.
The Kings were revived by the sin-binning of Lions centre Stokkies Hanekom in the 66th and surged back into contention when prop Schalk Ferreira bashed over near the posts two minutes after Hanekom left the field.
Wing Scott van Breda finished off a sweeping counter that started inside their own 22-meter area for the Kings' second try and converted his score for an 18-point haul and a 23-18 lead for the visitors with four minutes to go.
The Kings needed one more score to take their overall points total above the Lions, but couldn't find another opportunity as the Lions accepted the loss and held on to possession for the final minutes.