After several poor, yellow and red card-littered recent matches in the republic -- described by one pundit as 'torturous' to watch – this game restored faith in imaginative South African rugby.
A much closer contest than expected ensued on a cool Johannesburg evening before the Lions made it six victories in seven games and climbed one place to eighth on the combined standings.
The Johannesburg Lions, considered likely whipping boys before the southern hemisphere inter-provincial championship began two months ago, are just one point off the top-six play-off places.
After starting with two victories, the Cheetahs have imploded and this was their seventh defeat in eight outings.
But unlike some of those losses, the Bloemfontein outfit did not surrender meekly, and were within sight of the Lions' try-line in stoppage time when a turnover foiled chances of a dramatic triumph.
The willingness of both sides to run with the ball rewarded a good holiday-weekend crowd at Ellis Park, scene of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final victory of South Africa over New Zealand.
Flanker Warwick Tecklenburg, right-wing Ruan Combrinck, outside centre Lionel Mapoe and scrum-half Faf de Klerk scored a try each for the Lions, who are seeking a maiden play-offs appearance.
Fly-half Elton Jantjies, displaying form that could see him challenge for a Springboks World Cup squad place, kicked four conversions and two penalties for a 14-point tally.
Right-wing Cornal Hendricks, centres Francois Venter and Johann Sadie and replacement loose forward Carel Greeff were the Cheetahs' try-scorers.
Regular fly-half Joe Pietersen, starting at full-back because of an injury crisis, slotted three conversions and a drop goal.
Cheetahs led 10-7 at half-time and then fell 14 points behind before fighting back to give the Lions a scare and collect two bonus points.
Tries by former Northern Bulls Venter and Sadie levelled the match at 24-24 with 17 minutes left and set the stage for a pulsating climax.
A Jantjies penalty nudged the Lions ahead again before a brilliant Combrinck break created the chance for diminutive De Klerk to shrug off two tacklers and dot down beside the post.
Jantjies converted for a 10-point advantage, but a cheeky chip from inside his '22' by Pietersen created a flowing move that ended with Greeff going over in the corner.
Back came the Cheetahs and a Sadie break took play inside the Lions' '22' before the ball was turned over at a ruck and the relieved home side booted the ball into touch. – AFP
Original source: Lions beat Cheetahs in thriller