The Golden Lions secured a semi-final place with an impressive 44-17 win over the Free State Cheetahs at Ellis Park on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
While there were plenty of permutations at play coming into this clash, as both teams had a chance of earning a semi-final berth, the Lions ultimately leapfrogged their way into the top four, while the Cheetahs dropped out.
As a result, the Sharks will host the Blue Bulls in one semi-final next weekend, while the Lions will now travel to Cape Town to take on Western Province.
What’s already certain, though, is that there will be new domestic champions this year, with the Cheetahs’ title defence having come to an end in Johannesburg as they failed to keep pace with the ambitious Lions, who had been bolstered by the return of several Springboks.
On the balance of play in the first half, the Lions would have been mighty disappointed to have established just a three-point advantage at the break, but they upped the intensity in the second period and conceded a mere seven points.
The hosts enjoyed 58% of possession in the opening stanza, and led 13-3 after half an hour – with Springbok winger Courtnall Skosan scoring early on – but basic errors crept into their game during the latter stages of the first period.
The most costly mistake proved to be a poor offload from centre Harold Vorster when the Lions were on attack, with Cheetahs flyer Makazole Mapimpi intercepting the pass and darting 80m to score a try against the run of play.
Soon after the restart, the Lions were denied a try by the TMO for the second time in the match, but in the 47th-minute big flanker Cyle Brink would not be denied as he dotted down in the corner to help open up a 10-point buffer.
Notably, the introduction of substitutes Dylan Smith and Malcolm Marx suddenly saw the Lions begin to dominate at scrum time, with a penalty won at this set piece enabling them to further extend their lead before the hour mark.
The Lions then wrapped up the result when Skosan was put away to complete his brace in the 70th minute, and while there was a late flurry of tries, it would be the hosts who celebrated a job well done.
Golden Lions – Tries: Courtnall Skosan (2), Cyle Brink, Kwagga Smith, Robert Kruger. Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (4), Andries Coetzee. Penalties: Van der Walt (3).
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Paul Schoeman. Conversions: Ernst Stapelberg (2). Penalty: Stapelberg.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 13 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Len Massyn, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen (c).
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Rhyno Herbst, 19 Hacjivah Dayimani, 20 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Sylvian Mahuza.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Raymond Rhule, 14 Rosko Specman, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Ernst Stapelberg, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Oupa Mohoje, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Ox Nche, 17 Hacques du Toit, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Junior Pokomela, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Ali Mjijima, 22 Luther Obi.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix