The Lions won a topsy-turvy game 25-28 thanks to a second half brace from Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who scored the match-winning try in the last-minute at Toyota Stadium.
Flyhalf Fred Zeilinga’s 20-point haul was not enough as last year’s Super Rugby runners up claimed a three-point away win in the South African derby in Bloemfontein.
Elton Jantjies’s kept the visitors in the game with 17 points of his own.
The scores were level at 6-all after a first half full of ill-discipline saw 12 penalties, with 11 coming at the breakdown.
The game shot into life thanks to Raymond Rhule’s try in the opening passage of play in the second half but, it was Janse van Rensburg’s double and a penalty-try saw the Lions home.
The game was played under slippery conditions after some heavy rain throughout the week in south Africa’s central regions.
This had an impact on scrumming with many resets as the front rows lost their footing. Field conditions also played a role in Howard Mnisi being carried off with what looked to be a serious knee injury early in the match.
Both teams looked to attack the wide channels but poor handling and ill-discipline at the breakdown conspired for a tight first half.
Faf de Klerk’s, playing in his 50th Super Rugby game, was yellow carded for a professional foul before halftime.
Referee Quinton Immelman sending the scrumhalf to the sin-bin prior to the break, could not let the game continue without consequences.
Jantjies and Zeilinga shared two penalties apiece as the teams went into the break tied at 6-6.
Cheetahs’ coach Franco Smith described the field conditions as “heavy” and was not happy with his team’s ball control in the first half and said his players “legs were feeling heavy” due to the outfield.
He wanted his team to play with more width and they took his message to heart, scoring the game’s opening try.
Some miscommunication, combined with poor handling saw Rhule collect a loose ball on the ground near the touch-line and run, unchallenged for a 40 metres score.
Zeilinga’s conversion and a penalty two minutes later, saw the home team race into a 10 point lead inside the opening five minutes of the second half.
De Klerk’s yellow card had proved costly. The Cheetahs’ almost scored again, only for the Lions to turn the ball over inside their 22 and go down the field to score.
Lionel Mapoe collected his own grubber and popped to Andries Coetzee who raced downfield, drew the defender and passed to Janse van Rensburg to score.
Jantjies’ conversion reduced the deficit to three points before Zeilinga’s 59th minute penalty made the score 19-13.
The Cheetahs’ scrum, was by now, starting to dominate and their wide play was causing havoc as the Lions continued to make silly handling mistakes in promising positions.
Jantjies and Zeilinga traded penalties to keep the score differential at six with 15 minutes to play.
Despite the Cheetahs’ scrum dominance, the game turned when the Lions won a scrum-penalty and kicked to the corner for an attacking line-out.
The lions set-up a driving maul and were awarded a penalty-try. Francois Uys was sent to the bin and the Lions led by one.
Under the new rules, the conversion does not need to be taken and seven points is awarded for a penalty-try.
The Cheetahs would have to play the remainder of the game with 14 men but, another Zeilinga penalty with five minutes left, gave his team a 25-22 lead.
However, there would be one last twist to the tail. The Cheetahs, on the attack, lost the ball.
The Lions moved the ball upfield and through the hands. Ross Cronje’s offload to Janse van Rensburg who ran 20 metres to score the game-winning try.
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Final Score Cheetahs 25 (6) Lions 28 (6)
Tries – Rhule
Pen – Zeilinga (6)
Con – Zeilinga
Cards – Uys (Yellow, 68th minute)
Tries – Janse van Rensburg (2), Penalty-try
Pen – Jantjies (5)
Con – Jantjies
Cards – De Klerk (Yellow, 36th minute)
Referee: Quinton Immelman
Assistant Ref 1:Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Ref 2:Lourens van der Merwe
TMO : Shaun Veldsman
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Ox Nche, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ryno Benjamin
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Akker vd Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Jaco van der Walt