The Cheetahs staved off a late fight back from the Golden Lions to come away with a 30-29 victory in their Currie Cup opener at Ellis Park on Saturday. The visitors scored four tries for a bonus point, while the Lions had to be content with a single point.
The Cheetahs' forwards made all the difference as they gave their backline ample go-forward ball to attack the line.
The lock pairing of Waltie Vermeulen and Lood de Jager, coupled with a tireless effort from their loose trio, had the better of a young Lions pack and set the stage for some exciting running from the Bloemfontein side.
The Lions, however, drew first blood with flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff converting his first penalty of the match.
Boshoff produced a top-class kicking performance – an indication he had no intention of going quietly or merely handing over the number 10 jersey to Elton Jantjies.
The Cheetahs scored the first try, three minutes later, thanks to the vision of Johann Sadie and a display of individual brilliance by Robert Ebersohn.
Sadie spotted space on the outside and put the ball on his right foot where Ebersohn did well to snap up the ball before it went over the line.
Ebersohn then darted for the corner where a defender caught up with him but the nippy centre dived for the line and miraculously stayed infield to score.
While Riaan Smit hooked his conversion attempt to the left, Boshoff had no problems with his second shot at goal to restore the Lions' lead in the 13th minute.
Five minutes later, the lead changed hands again as Smit succeeded with a long-range penalty attempt.
Shortly before the half-hour mark, the Cheetahs were denied their second try when the lineout throw to De Jager did not travel five metres before he crossed the tryline.
The Cheetahs made up for it when Boom Prinsloo scored from a rampant driving maul resulting from a lineout which started on the Lions' 22 metre line. Smit's conversion attempt hit the upright.
The hosts bounced back immediately afterwards and showed some muscle for the first time in the match, with a few good phases to set up a try for Stokkies Hanekom.
Dylan des Fountain went through a narrow gap to find Hanekom on his inside for the try, with Boshoff converting to level the scores 13-13.
Two minutes before the half-time break, Boshoff slotted over another penalty conversion to hand his side a three-point lead.
The Cheetahs opened the scoring in the second half as they grinded their way towards the tryline.
Philip van der Walt picked and went but fell short but the Lions fumbled the ball on the line. Sarel Pretorius pounced on it to add the five-pointer and Smit converted for a four-point lead.
Boshoff added another penalty for the Lions before Sadie crossed the whitewash in the 54th minute for the Cheetahs' fourth try.
Elgar Watts, who had taken over the kicking duties, was on target with his shot at goal.
The home side then launched a valiant fight back as they scored twice in seven minutes.
Willie Britz touched down in the 63rd minute, although Jantjies, who replaced Boshoff, missed the conversion.
Watts then gave the Cheetahs a slight cushion with a penalty conversion before Ruan Dreyer scored to bring the Lions within a point of victory.
Jantjies' conversion kick, which would have put his side in the lead, fell short and, despite threatening attacks, the Lions ran out of time.
Final Score Lions 29 (16) Cheetahs 30 (13)
Tries: Stokkies Hanekom, Willie Britz, Ruan Dreyer
Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff
Penalties: Boshoff (4).
Tries: Robert Ebersohn, Boom Prinsloo, Sarel Pretorius, Johann Sadie
Conversions: Riaan Smit, Elgar Watts
Penalties: Smit, Watts.