JOHANNESBURG: Michael Rhodes scored a last-minute try to give Western Province a bonus-point 36-23 win over Lions on Saturday and a one-point lead in the South African Currie Cup table.
The former Lions forward swivelled when tackled and touched down in cold Cape Town to nudge the defending champions ahead of Sharks with one league round left.
Lions had spent much of the closing stages camped inside the Province '22', as the hosts defended bravely with 14 men after hooker Scara Ntubeni was yellow-carded.
But when the Johannesburg visitors were penalised at a scrum, Province broke clear and sustained pressure ended with left wing Cheslin Kolbe setting up Rhodes to score.
Lions led 9-6 by the half-hour mark at Newlands, but a try from centre Damian de Allende after a superb multi-phase build-up gave Province the lead.
Captain and flanker Deon Fourie barged over at the end of the opening half and fly-half Demetri Catrakilis converted for a 18-9 half-time lead.
A purple patch by Province continued after the break with right-wing Gerhard van den Heever claiming the third try and a 19-point advantage.
But the Lions clawed back into the contest with two tries from skipper and flanker Derick Minnie off superbly executed driving mauls.
Marnitz Boshoff, switched to fly-half in place of injured Elton Jantjies, converted both and there were only five points between the sides with 15 minutes left.
A penalty from replacement fly-half Kurt Coleman gave Province breathing space before Rhodes delivered the first bonus point of the season for the home side.
Province are away to Sharks in Durban next weekend in a winner-takes-all clash with the team topping the table having home advantage in the final, provided they win their semi-final.
Catrakilis, who has signed a two-year contract after spending the Super Rugby season at Southern Kings, contributed 13 points from two conversions and three penalties.
Boshoff also finished with 13 points from two conversions and three penalties.
Ghana-born left wing Raymond Rhule grabbed four tries as Cheetahs crushed Griquas 52-21 in sun-baked Kimberley to move into third place, one point above Lions.
After a disappointing season and only three tries in seven outings, discarded Springbok squad member Rhule was axed last week.
Recalled because leading scorer Riaan Smit was injured, Rhule took full advantage and four second-half touchdowns made him the leading Currie Cup try scorer with seven.
Prop Schalk van der Merwe and replacement scrum-half Piet van Zyl were the other try scorers for Cheetahs, who led 14-7 at half-time.
Fly-half Elgar Watts kicked four penalties and two conversions and his replacement, Willie du Plessis, slotted home three conversions.
Locks Dalton Davis, Jaco Nepgen and Australian Rory Arnold scored a try each for Griquas and fly-half Francois Brummer converted one and full-back Gouws Prinsloo two.
Defeat condemned Griquas to a two-leg promotion-relegation play-off against second-tier champions Mpumalanga Pumas or Eastern Province Kings.