In an eight-try thriller, the Lions finally got their first try bonus point of the season after edging past the Cheetahs here last night, but it really should never have been such a close affair.
The Lions dominated this Super Rugby contest and had it not been for some sloppy handling, poor passing and general shoddy decision-making the Cheetahs wouldn’t have had a sniff.
But hats off to the men from Bloemfontein; they were out-played but they never stopped having a go and at times made their hosts look very ordinary.
This, their fifth win on the trot and their sixth in seven games, keeps the Lions in with a shout of making the play-offs, while the Cheetahs’ campaign is now just about run.
The Lions started superbly and with plenty of intent, scoring their first try in the third minute through Warwick Tecklenburg and at that stage it looked as if the Lions would run away with the contest.
They camped out in Cheetahs territory and dominated the possession, leaving the visitors with no option but put boot to ball.
But against the run of play the Cheetahs scored through Cornal Hendricks and by the break it was 10-7 to the visitors after Joe Pietersen had struck a late drop-goal.
The crowd – and probably the Lions players and management, too – were left shocked; their team had enjoyed the upperhand throughout the period, but trailed at the break.
A stern talking-to by Johan Ackermann no doubt shook up the Lions players who started the second spell like they did the first.
Ruan Combrinck finished off a stunner of a try within two minutes of the restart and a minute later Lionel Mapoe went over to see his side into a 21-10 lead.
Soon after that Elton Jantjies slotted a penalty to put his side 14 points clear and most would have thought it was game-over.
Not with the Cheetahs though – and not when the Lions become too elaborate and too flashy.
They tried a few 50/50 passes that didn’t come off and they also lost momentum with dropped balls and poor option-taking.
Before the Lions knew it the Cheetahs had crossed for two more tries – by Francois Venter and Johan Sadie and with 10 minutes to go the scores were level.
Jantjies again put his side three points ahead and when Faf de Klerk got his team’s fourth try with five to go it finally seemed done and dusted.
Cheetahs replacement Carel Greeff though made sure this cracker of a Super Rugby game would go down to the last minute when he scored his team’s bonus-point try in the 78th minute ... but for the Lions there’d be no late, late knock-out.
There were a number of quality performances by the Lions players, among them Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Combrinck, Jantjies and up front Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Franco Mostert.
Ackermann’s men hung on for a full-house of five points and next face the Bulls, at Loftus this weekend.
Original source: Lions make meal of Cheetahs