Golden Lions regained Super 15 status Saturday despite losing 23-18 at home to Southern Kings in the second leg of a promotion play-off.

In a thrilling finish to the two-leg contest, the Johannesburg outfit won on points difference after each team collected five log points.

It came down to winning margins with the Lions seven points ahead in Port Elizabeth last weekend and the Kings falling just short with a five-point victory.

A near-capacity crowd at the 62,000 Ellis Park stadium on the fringe of central Johannesburg watched the dour, tense, penalty-littered struggle.

Lions will join Northern Bulls, Central Cheetahs, Western Stormers and Coastal Sharks in the southern hemisphere championship next year.

But after just one season among the elite, the Port Elizabeth-based Kings return to the international wilderness for at least one season.

Kings capitalised on the Lions having outside centre Stokkies Hanekom yellow carded 14 minutes from time to score two converted tries.

It turned an 18-9 deficit into a 23-18 advantage and a penalty goal in the final six minutes would have been enough to ensure the Kings' survival.

But the Lions finished strongly, came close to scoring a third try, and took the ball through a multitude of phases as time ticked away.

Young right-wing Scott van Breda made a memorable first start for Kings, scoring a try and kicking two conversions and three penalties.

Loose-head prop Schalk Ferreira completed the tally by barging over for a try on 68 minutes that brought the visitors from the eastern Cape back into the game.

Flank Derick Minnie and lock Jaco Kriel claimed the Lions' tries and fly-half Elton Jantjies kicked a conversion and two penalties from six shots at goal.