Andre Warner scored two tries as the Lions cruised to a 39-23 bonus-point win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Lions took a giant leap towards playoff qualification with this victory, moving within a point of the third-ranked Western Province on the log. The Bulls remain at the top of the standings despite suffering defeat earlier in the day, while their conquerors – the Sharks – are second.
For the Cheetahs, their hopes of reaching the playoffs took another hit. They are now eight points off qualification for the knockout stage.
The match started out as a closely fought affair but the Cheetahs made the most of their early chances. Two penalties from Tian Schoeman and a booming kick by Frans Steyn from well within his own half ensured that the hosts opened up a 9-3 lead.
The Lions were not deterred by those early setbacks and once they settled down and found their rhythm, they outmuscled, outran and outplayed the Cheetahs. The Lions dominated the set pieces and used that dominance to get close to the tryline. They then mauled their way over the line, but the try was disallowed for an error in the lead-up.
The visitors would go on to score 29 unanswered points, including a brace from Warner and one each by ex-Bok strongmen Willem Alberts and Jannie du Plessis. Another former Bok, Jaco Kriel, also starred during that period before and just after the break. The flank made a scintillating break down the touchline to set up one of Warner’s touchdowns.
The Cheetahs went on to score a consolation try through scrumhalf Ruben de Haas, who represents the USA in international rugby, but it was too little, too late.
The Lions, though, carried on their merry ways as lock Marvin Orie burrowed over from close quarters to wrap up the result.
Cheetahs – Tries: Ruben de Haas, Marnus van der Merwe. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (2). Penalties: Schoeman (2), Frans Steyn.
Lions – Tries: Willem Alberts, Andre Warner (2), Jannie du Plessis, Marvin Orie. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (43). Penalties: Jantjies (2).
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Jeandre Rudolph, 7 Aidon Davis, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Carl Wegner, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 Kutha Mchunu, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Boan Venter.
Subs: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Cameron Dawson, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Victor Sekekete, 21 Ruben de Haas, 22 Reinhardt Fortuin, 23 Dries Swanepoel.
Lions – 15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (c), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Roelof Smit.
Photo: Lions Rugby/Twitter