Lions edge Ellis Park thriller

The Lions overturned a half-time deficit to claim a 34-29 bonus-point victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.

South African derbies are often criticised for their overly physical, defence-oriented approach. This was not one of them.

Both sides chose the occasion at Ellis Park to showcase their attacking abilities, using width and an appreciation of space to deliver an enthralling match that hung in the balance until the dying seconds. In the end, there were eight tries, as both teams earned a bonus point for their contribution.

There was nothing between them after a frenetic opening half, with the Cheetahs holding a slim 10-7 lead at the break.

The Lions, who came into the match on the back of four successive victories, took an early lead through a Warwick Tecklenburg try and only a great steal from Tienie Burger prevented them from going in for a second minutes later.

The Cheetahs survived the early onslaught and slowly worked their way back into the match, and would score next following a breathtaking passage of play.

Faf de Klerk's decision to take a quick tap on his own 5m line has to be questioned, but the Lions worked their way down field before Elton Jantjies punched a hole in the Cheetahs' defence. However, he was unable to find a teammate, and the Cheetahs snatched a turnover, working the ball to Cornal Hendricks, who beat the ailing defenders to race clear and score.

A Joe Pietersen drop goal ensured the visitors went into the break with a lead deserving of their spirited first-half performance.

But all their hard work was undone within minutes of the restart, as Ruan Combrinck and Lionel Mapoe crossed the tryline within a minute of each other, before a Jantjies penalty ensured the Lions turned a three-point deficit into a 14-point lead.

The Lions, buoyed by their attacking exploits, went in search of the bonus-point try, as captain Warren Whiteley turned down a kickable penalty to go for the corner. However, the Lions lost control of the ball at the front of the lineout, and the Cheetahs made them pay for their brashness. Quick-fire tries from Francois Venter and Johann Sadie drew the sides level with just under a quarter of the match to play.

Jantjies would restore the Lions' lead with another penalty, before De Klerk looked to have sealed victory in the 74th minute following another great break from Combrinck. But the Cheetahs struck back with a try of their own, with replacement flank Carel Greeff going over in the corner.

It set up a nervy finish for the hosts, who gave up a penalty in the dying seconds as they tried to run down the clock. The Cheetahs launched one final attack in a bid to snatch the victory, but it was not to be as Ross Cronjé claimed a vital turnover in his 22, before Marnitz Boshoff kicked the ball across the touchline to end a scintillating game of rugby.

Lions – Tries: Warwick Tecklenburg, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Faf de Klerk. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Cheetahs – Tries: Cornal Hendricks, Francois Venter, Johann Sadie, Carel Greeff. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3). Drop goal: Joe Pietersen.

Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.

Cheetahs – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveldt, 1 Danie Minnie.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Carel Greeff, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Michael van der Spuy, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images