Johannesburg (AFP) - Lions survived a scare to defeat Kings 37-21 Saturday and take a one-point lead halfway through the South African Currie Cup league phase.
The Johannesburg outfit have a maximum 25 points from five bonus-point victories in the 124-year inter-provincial championship, the oldest in rugby union.
Bulls, who host Lions next weekend, are second with 24 points after failing to secure a bonus-point win for the first time this season when overcoming Cheetahs 24-17 in Pretoria.
Title-holders Western Province lie third, 10 ponts behind Lions, after also getting a fright before ending a two-match losing streak with a 33-15 triumph over bottom side Griquas in Cape Town.
Sharks come next in the standings, two points adrift of Province, thanks to a dramatic 27-26 victory against Pumas in Durban.
Cheetahs (11 points), Pumas (nine), Kings (three) and Griquas (one) complete the standings and the top-four finishers after 10 rounds qualify for the semi-finals.
Kings, who refused to train for one day this week over unpaid salaries, got within six points of Lions at Ellis Park approaching the middle of the second half.
But Lions regained the momentum and replacement Marnitz Boshoff kicked a penalty and converted a try by Ruan Combrinck to condemn Kings to a fifth consecutive defeat.
After several scintillating victories born out of ball-in-hand rugby, Bulls had to settle for an arm-wrestle victory over Cheetahs at wet, chilly Loftus Versfeld.
Having suffered a 38-point bashing at home from the Bulls in the first round, Cheetahs offered much stronger resistance and kept the dynamic home backs in check most of the time.
Dries Swanepoel followed up a brace of tries at Griquas last weekend by scoring a crucial one nine minutes from time to give Bulls an 11-point lead.
That advantage was trimmed to four points by a Sias Ebersohn try which Clayton Blommetjies converted before Louis Fouche slotted a last-minute penalty for Bulls.
There was still time for Cheetahs to mount an assault, seeking a converted try to draw, but Ghana-born Raymond Rhule was bundled into touch outside the '22'.
Sharks avenged a loss at Pumas, but it was a close call at Kings Park as they needed 10 late unanswered points to scrap home.
Pumas were looking good to complete a 'double' over the 2013 champions as they led by nine ponts going into the closing stages.
But a second try of the game from Wandile Mjekevu was converted by Joe Pietersen, who won the match with a penalty.
Province trailed Griquas 15-13 at Newlands stadium before a 50th-minute Rynhardt Elstadt try triggered a 20-point scoring spree by the reigning champions.