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Lions pip Waratahs thanks to sub Reynolds

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Johannesburg (AFP)

The New South Wales Waratahs led the Golden Lions four times in Johannesburg Saturday only to finish 29-28 losers in a tense, error-filled Super Rugby round 13 match.

Each side scored four tries at Ellis Park in the South African financial capital before the outcome was decided by a 68th-minute penalty from substitute fly-half Shaun Reynolds.

Reynolds and scrum-half Nic Groom had replaced Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje to give the Lions a new half-back partnership entering the final quarter.

A sixth victory this season lifted the Lions to eighth in the combined table while the Waratahs lie 13th with just four victories from 11 outings.

The uncertainty of the outcome between teams who have underperformed this season -- neither led by more than seven points -- kept the small crowd in the 62,000-seat venue entertained.

But purists would not have enjoyed the number of handling errors by both teams as they pursued ball-in-hand approaches in pursuit of precious points.

Lions hooker and man-of-the-match Malcolm Marx blamed "rust" for the far-from-perfect performance from a franchise that have finished runners-up in the last three editions.

"We were rusty after having a bye last weekend and that was a factor in our display," admitted the Springbok. "There were too many unforced errors.

"A positive was keeping the Waratahs deep in their half during the closing stages. There were several scoring opportunities for us but, unfortunately, we did not take any."

Fit-again Lions skipper and No 8 Warren Whiteley emphasised how important victory was in relation to the South African conference, with its winners guaranteed a home quarter-final.

- 'Excellent scrumming' -

"Winning this match was crucial with only five points separating the top and bottom teams. I am proud of the way we were able to grind out a victory.

"It was a tit-for-tat tussle in which the Waratahs kept pulling ahead and we repeatedly fought back. Our excellent scrumming won us some penalties."

Waratahs skipper and loose forward Michael Hooper said "it was really good contest between two evenly matches teams who delivered exciting rugby.

"This match went down to the wire and could have gone either way. I was encouraged by our ability to stop the Lions from developing rolling mauls into try-scoring opportunities."

The Sydney outfit led three times in the opening half through tries by scrum-half Nick Phipps, Hooper and lock Rob Simmons, all of which fly-half Bernard Foley converted.

The hosts responded with tries from winger Aphiwwe Dyantyi, lock Stephan Lewies and flanker Kwagga Smith, two of which Jantjies converted, leaving the Waratahs 21-19 ahead at half-time.

Jantjies nudged the South Africans in front on 44 minutes for the first time when he converted a try by winger Courtnall Skosan.

But the Australians regained the lead when Foley added the extra points to a try from lock Tom Staniforth.

It was left to Reynolds to slot a short-range penalty from in front of the post to cheer Lions coach Swys de Bruin, back in charge this week after a stress-related illness.

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