The Golden Lions secured a home semi-final and ended the Free State Cheetahs' play-off hopes with a 47-7 win at Ellis Park, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
This result sees the Lions go up against the Sharks at Ellis Park next Saturday, with Western Province hosting the Blue Bulls in the other semi.
Johan Ackermann's side will take plenty of confidence and momentum into the play-offs after a convincing win in their last match of the league stage.
The Lions – who again wore blue jerseys to mark the union's 125-year anniversary – dominated the scrum, with Ruan Dreyer's strong showing resulting in the substitution of Caylib Oosthuizen just before half-time, while loose forwards Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie and Jaco Kriel carried the ball strongly. That allowed the backs to play an expansive game.
The Cheetahs were boosted by the return of Trevor Nyakane, Lood de Jager and Oupa Mohoje, and while the Springbok trio made an impact, it wasn't nearly enough to get the win their team needed to stay in the competition. The Free Staters finish a disappointing fifth, having come last in the South African conference in Super Rugby.
Two converted tries gave the Lions a 14-0 lead after just 12 minutes. They opened the scoring when, after twice kicking penalties to the corner, Kriel went over from a lineout driving maul. Minnie then ran over Clayton Blommetjies to score after the ball had gone through five sets of hands.
The Cheetahs suffered another setback on the 22-minute mark as Mohoje was yellow-carded for a cynical infringement at the breakdown, and Marnitz Boshoff, who started at flyhalf for the Lions having been named at fullback earlier in the week, took the three points.
The hosts made their numerical advantage count when they went wide to Ruan Combrinck, whose audacious dummy fooled Sarel Pretorius and Raymond Rhule. The winger then rounded Blommetjies to make it 22-0.
The Cheetahs had 65% of the possession in the second half, yet could only score one try, through Sarel Pretorius.
The Lions hit back soon after when Warwick Tecklenburg went over from another lineout driving maul, before Boshoff kicked two penalties, the second of which came from another dominant scrum.
Their fifth try, in the 73rd minute, was a beauty, with Mark Richards's back-flip pass finding Courtnall Skosan, who also passed in the tackle to Howard Mnisi.
Soon after, Armand van der Merwe picked up the ball from the back of a ruck and powered over to complete the rout.
Golden Lions – Tries: Jaco Kriel, Derick Minnie, Ruan Combrinck, Warwick Tecklenburg, Howard Mnisi, Armand van der Merwe. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (4). Penalties: Boshoff (3).
FS Cheetahs – Try: Sarel Pretorius. Conversion: Willie du Plessis.
Golden Lions – 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Mark Richards.
FS Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 AJ Coertzen, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Lappies Labuschagne, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Torsten van Jaarseveld (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 George Marich, 18 Henco Venter, 19 Neil Claassen, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 Maphutha Dolo.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images