It was a last-minute Marnitz Boshoff drop-goal that sealed the win in a game where the Cheetahs outscored the visitors by two tries to none.
All the Lions’ points came from the boot of Boshoff – six penalties and the match-winning drop-goal.
But full marks to the visitors for their never-say-die attitude and enormous heart they showed at times when the Cheetahs looked to take command.
It was an exciting game, at times littered with errors on both side, but a game that provided plenty of action and bucketloads of drama – a fitting start to the season.
There will be concern in the Cheetahs camp over the elbow injury suffered by star flyhalf Johan Goosen.
The Lions scrum was penalised heavily in the early exchanges – apparently for pushing early on the Cheetahs’ feed. It wasn’t obvious that they went early. What made those calls all the more questionable is how strong the Lions were on their own feed. The penalty calls eventually also started going the way of the Lions as they got the upperhand over the all-Springbok front row of the Cheetahs.
In the line-outs the teams were both solid on their own throws, while the breakdown was a real arm-wrestle – an aspect where the Cheetahs had the early ascendancy, but the Lions got their own back as the game wore on..
While the Cheetahs had their moments on attack, the Lions’ all-out-expansive approach at times resulted in their own downfall – but also providing plenty in terms of entertainment value.
Sensational Springbok Willie le Roux, who, having been given the freedom to roam and play his skilful game, was at times let down by his hands.
However, when he did hang onto the ball he showed why he is currently the most exciting player in the world.
The Cheetahs got into the game early – a dominant tackle by Lodewyk de Jager resulted in a penalty against the :Lions. Johan Goosen, from almost 60 metres out, pushed it wide. And in the seventh minute Goosen, from inside the Lions 22, hooked another penalty past the upright.
The Lions got their first scoring opportunity in the 16th minute – a reversed penalty after a Cheetahs player ‘pushed’ a Lions counterpart in the face – with Marnitz Boshoff slotting the kick for a 3-0 lead.
After yet another scrum penalty, Goosen had a third shot, from 40 metres out, in the 20th minute and this time he raised the flags – 3-all.
And then, in the 24th minute, the Cheetahs displayed their blistering counter-attacking ability when Raymond Rhule scored the season’s first try – after Willie le Roux started the attack from a tipped ball when the Lions were on attack. Goosen’s conversion gave the Cheetahs a 10-3 lead.
Just short of the half-hour mark Boshoff had a shot at goal from 45 metres out, after Francois Venter was caught on the wrong side of a tackle – the Lions flyhalf narrowing the gap to 6-10.
That became 9-10, right on the half-time hooter, when Boshoff slotted his third penalty after a high tackle by Lodewyk de Jager.
The Cheetahs opened the scoring after the break – Willie le Roux prominent several times in a moved that resulted in Cornal Hendricks going over in the 50th minute for his first Super Rugby try. Goosen’s conversion made it 17-9.
Boshoff got the Lions back within five points (12-17) when he slotted a penalty from more than 40 metres out after the Cheetahs were pinged at the breakdown again – Sarel Pretorius the culprit.
Jean Cook, barely a minute after replacing Johannes Prinsloo, was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous and late tackle on Marnitz Boshoff. And the Lions flyhalf narrowed the gap to within two – 15-17.
Ten minutes from the end Elgar Watts slotted a penalty to make it a five-point (20-15) game, after the Lions scrum was penalised.
With just five minutes left on the clock Boshoff, from just over 40 metres out, made it a two-point (18-20) game again after Coenie Oosthuizen was penalised at the tackle/breakdown area.
However, Warwick Tecklenburg error gave the Cheetahs a sitter, but Watts hooked it wide.
And with a Minute left on the clock Boshoff landed a sweetly-struck drop-goal after the forwards had worked their way into a good position.
The Cheetahs had one last dash, but the Lions hung on for the first upset of the season.
Man of the match: Willie le Roux was a mixed bag, prominent in much that was good and bad in the Cheetahs’ attack – he certainly injected himself into the game. Adriaan Strauss, as was the case for the past two years, who a number of penalties for his team with his enormous workrate at the breakdown. The Lions’ front row also stood up to their more fancied Cheetahs counterparts far better than what was expected. The most exciting of the Lions was young scrumhalf Francois de Klerk, who only came into the starting XV at a very late stage – when Michael Bondesio pulled up with a leg injury after the captain’s run on Friday. However, our award goes to the Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff - who was pivotal to the Lions’ attacking game, not taking a step back for the highly-rated Springbok Johan Goosen and perhaps shading him on the day. Mostly, he kicked all his kicks and landed the match-winner.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Rhule, Hendrik
Cons: Goosen 2
Pens: Goosen, Watts
For the Lions:
Pens: Boshoff 6
Yellow card: Jean Cook (Cheetahs, 61 – foul play, dangerous tackle)