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Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli told Afrikaans website Netwerk24 the Johannesburg-based franchise named their team to face the Chiefs, with Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies on the bench, knowing full well the duo would start.
The Lions shocked the Chiefs by racing out to a 20-0 halftime lead before hanging on in the final minutes for a 23-17 victory.
Springbok hooker Marx and utility back Jantjies were key to the upset win.
The Chiefs were most notably without the injured All Blacks Damian McKenzie, Nathan Harris and Brodie Retallick.
"It was a tactical move to announce the team like that because we wanted the Chiefs to believe they were not going to play," Straeuli told Netwerk24.
"With Malcolm on the bench, the Chiefs opted to rest some of their heavy forwards. With him in the starting team we could take them on at scrum time and it worked well. The foundation for our victory was laid up front."
While not strictly illegal, the Lions' tactic could be considered as bad sportsmanship.
The South Africans have struggled for form in recent weeks, suffering consecutive losses - including a shock defeat at home to the Sharks, before head coach Swys de Bruin cut short his New Zealand trip to return to Johannesburg due to mental health issues.
Straeuli is no stranger to controversy.
The former loose forward was head coach of the Springboks during the infamous "Kamp Staaldraad" training camp ahead of the disastrous 2003 World Cup campaign.
The SAS-style camp, led by a former police taskforce commander, saw players stripped naked, huddled in a pit for hours and even threatened with firearms while the All Blacks' haka and the England national anthem was played over a loudspeaker.