The Lions dug deep to win in the quarters and then semi-finals, but the South African champions could not halt the stampeding Crusaders in a dramatic finale.
The hosts made a slow start to the Ellis Park quarter-final against the Sharks, but a 55-metre penalty from Ruan Combrinck with three minutes to go clinched a thrilling 23-21 victory and set up a home semi-final.
It wasn’t the blowout playoff defeat that the Newlands faithful have become accustomed to in recent years, but the Stormers nonetheless conceded their place in the final four to the Chiefs after a 17-11 reverse in Cape Town.
The Lions pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the semi-final against the Hurricanes, bouncing back from a 22-3 deficit in the first half to beat the fading defending champions with three fourth-quarter tries in a 44-29 victory.
But that fourth-quarter advantage evaded the Lions in the final after Kwagga Smith was red-carded at the end of the first half of a heartbreaking 25-17 loss against the Crusaders, the 2017 Super Rugby champions.