The Golden Lions took top honours at the Under-18 Craven Week for the first time since 2005 after taming the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks 45-18 in the unofficial final at St Stithians College in Johannesburg on Saturday.
While the Lions ended as top dogs, spare a thought for Free State, who closed out their campaign unbeaten with three big points wins, the last against Western Province in the penultimate match of the competition to show they, and not the Lions, should have been picked to tackle the Sharks.
The Lions — in the same pool as Free State and WP — won their opening match comfortably but were then held to a 13-13 stalemate by WP in the middle game, a result that should have dented their chances of contesting the showpiece game.
However, as hosts the Lions got the nod to play in the final and while they delivered a compelling performance, Free State will feel they got a raw deal by those who made the call.
The Lions went ahead 8-0 after nine minutes against the Sharks thanks to a penalty goal from fullback Kennedy Mpeku and an unconverted try by wing Tino Swanepoel.
But their opponents knocked over a penalty goal with scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba on target and then bagged two unanswered tries in as many minutes with inside centre Conan le Fleur and hooker Cham Zondeki crossing the whitewash. It was 18-11 in favour of the Sharks at half-time.
The hosts owned the second 35-minute half, scoring 34 points without reply made up of four tries and two penalties They had opened up a 17-point cushion with 12 minutes left before getting their final two five-pointers to go with a three-pointer.
Franco Schutte, David Cary, Mark Snyman and PJ Jacobs were the try scorers while Mpeku converted all four and got over both penalties.
The game before that saw Free State beat WP 54-33.
The SA schools team is to be announced later in the week.