The Lions scored five tries to beat the Cheetahs 39-22 at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
In the buildup to this match, coach Franco Smith said the Cheetahs were working hard on their defence and that system errors were not to blame for their problems this season. Clearly, though, a lot more work needs to be done. The Cheetahs missed 20 tackles in a first half that saw them concede 24 points, and while they slipped just seven in the second half, the damage had already been done.
The Lions' attack, as expected, prospered – the hosts made 513 running metres compared to the visitors' 288 – and they did well to score four answered tries inside the first 42 minutes. Unfortunately for them, they allowed the Cheetahs to then score three tries that denied them a try-scoring bonus point.
This was a typical high-scoring Lions-Cheetahs clash, with both sides looking to play an expansive game with ball in hand.
The Cheetahs thought they had opened the scoring with a try to Paul Schoeman in the left-hand corner, but referee Stuart Berry correctly ruled that a pass in the buildup from Clayton Blommetjies had gone forward.
The Lions smashed the Cheetahs at the first scrum but then suffered a setback when Jaco Kriel left the field for a concussion test and didn't return. Soon after, Neil Marais slotted a simple penalty to put the visitors on the board.
The Cheetahs scrum hit back at the end of the first quarter, but the Lions were solid at the next set piece, with Elton Jantjies's inside pass putting Courtnall Skosan into space. The ball came back to Jantjies from the next ruck and he went through the gap to score the first try, although TV replays suggested he may not have grounded the ball.
With Jantjies having taken a knock in the act of scoring, Ruan Combrinck kicked the conversion, but the flyhalf recovered to slot a penalty.
The Lions then struck a big blow when they ran the ball out from their 22 and Combrinck took advantage of some poor defence to take play up to the Cheetahs' 22. He then passed inside to Howard Mnisi, who found Faf de Klerk, and the scrumhalf cut back inside to beat the last defender and go in under the posts.
The Lions scored their third try two minutes before the break when Jantjies burst through a gaping hole in the defence and passed inside to Mnisi, whose try under the posts made it 24-3.
It took the hosts less than two minutes of the second half to add to their tally when, after a strong run from replacement Cyle Brink, Ruan Ackermann hung on to De Klerk's pass to score his second try in three matches.
The Cheetahs finally crossed the line through a bit of individual brilliance from Sergeal Petersen, who stepped past three defenders to score in the right-hand corner.
That seemed to give the visitors some confidence and they would get over again in the 67th minute through replacement Tian Meyer to take the bonus point away from the Lions.
Soon after, the hosts strangely opted to kick a penalty for posts, and extend their lead to 19, instead of for the corner in search of another try. They were then reduced to 14 men when Rohan Janse van Rensburg was yellow-carded for taking Blommetjies out in the air.
Jacques du Toit was driven over from a lineout driving maul to score the Cheetahs' third try, and while the Lions had enough time to get their fifth, through Corné Fourie, they still missed out on the bonus point.
Lions – Tries: Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Howard Mnisi, Ruan Ackermann, Corné Fourie. Conversions: Ruan Combrinck, Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Cheetahs – Tries: Sergeal Petersen, Tian Meyer, Jacques du Toit. Conversions: Neil Marais (2). Penalty: Marais.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 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 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Neil Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Boom Prinsloo, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images