Marnitz Boshoff kicked a late drop goal to give the Lions a 21-20 win in Bloemfontein, reports SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Lions flyhalf, who started in the absence of the injured Elton Jantjies, also slotted six penalties as the Joburg franchise made a triumphant return to Vodacom Super Rugby.
The Cheetahs only have themselves to blame for this defeat. They played high-risk, helter-skelter rugby that suited their opponents, and missed three penalty kicks at goal, including an easy one by replacement flyhalf Elgar Watts, with two minutes to go.
The hosts made an error-riddled start to the game – Johan Goosen missed two early penalties and Willie le Roux dropped a pass when put into space and then threw two poor passes. But the fullback made amends in the 23rd minute when he picked up the loose ball 55m out, glided through the defence and put Raymond Rhule over for the first try of the Super Rugby season. Goosen, who had found his radar with an earlier penalty, kicked the conversion.
Boshoff had a good first half, taking the ball flat on attack and kicking three penalties that made it 10-9 at the break.
The scrums were a bit of a mess in the opening 40 as a result of the forwards from both sides not keeping their feet under their hips. Super Rugby debutant Caylib Oosthuizen did well in his personal battle with Julian Redelinghuys, but was substituted for Trevor Nyakane early in the second half.
The Cheetahs struck again when an inside pass from Le Roux put Shaun Venter into space. The scrumhalf took play to within 5m of the Lions' tryline before being high-tackled by Warren Whiteley, who was lucky not to receive a yellow card. When the referee went back to the penalty, the Cheetahs took it quickly and a long pass from Le Roux saw Cornal Hendricks score his first Super Rugby try. Goosen's conversion made it 17-9 after 48 minutes.
Boshoff kicked his fourth penalty and was then flattened by Jean Cook's late charge, which resulted in a yellow card and another three points for the Lions.
Soon after, Goosen, who appeared to be struggling with injury, was replaced with Watts. He kicked a penalty with 10 minutes to go, but Boshoff responded with his sixth to again reduce the deficit to two.
The Lions conceded a silly penalty from the restart, but Watts missed the sitter and Boshoff then snatched victory with a well-taken drop goal.
Cheetahs – Tries: Raymond Rhule, Cornal Hendricks. Conversions: Johan Goosen (2). Penalties: Goosen, Elgar Watts.
Lions – Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff (6). Drop goal: Boshoff.
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Rynhardt Landman, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Rayno Benjamin.
Lions – 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Coenie van Wyk, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix