Cheetahs edge Ellis Park thriller
The Free State Cheetahs got their Currie Cup campaign off to the perfect start, with a full-house of five points – courtesy of a thrilling 30-29 win over the Golden Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Outscoring the home side by four tries to three, the men from Bloemfontein claimed valuable points on the road in South Africa's premier domestic competition.
All the Lions had to show for their efforts was a losing bonus point, for finishing within seven of the victors – even though they had a chance to snatch a late winner.
It was a free-flowing game from the outset, especially the Cheetahs – who moved the ball from side-to-side with greater efficiency and forcing the Lions to scramble on defence.
The Lions' best defence was to create scrappy ball for the Cheetahs at the breakdown, with captain Derick Minnie in particularly menacing form.
And when the Lions got some front-foot ball, they looked every bit as dangerous on attack as the Cheetahs.
The Lions also dominated the scrums, which saw him claw their way back into the game on more than one occasion.
The Lions had a perfect start, forcing a five-metre scrum from the kick-off and then winning a penalty as the Cheetahs transgressed under pressure. Marnitz Boshoff kicked the penalty for a 3-0 lead.
However, the Cheetahs made their intentions clear with a brilliant counter after a poor clearance attempt – Robert Ebersohn getting the five-point that was set up by a sublime chip-kick from Johan Sade. Riaan Smit couldn't add the extras, but they had the lead – 5-0 after six minutes.
The Cheetahs continued to dominate the early exchanges, but two breakdown penalties saw the Lions get into Cheetahs territory and Boshoff kicking a second penalty – 6-5 after 15 minutes.
Minutes later the Lions were penalised on their own 10-metre line for a breakdown offence and Smit regained the lead for the visitors – 8-6.
Just short of the half-hour mark Lodewyk de Jager thought he had scored the Cheetahs' second try, but they were called back because the line-out throw had not travelled the required five metres.
However, the Cheetahs got their try almost immediately afterwards – from a line-out set up after Chrysander Botha had made his umpteenth mistake and conceded a penalty to go, the Cheetahs mauled the ball for more than 20 metres, with Johannes Prinsloo sitting pretty at the back to cruise over. Smit's conversion attempt hit the upright – 13-6.
The Lions, not to be outdone, scored one of the best tries of the year – Hanekom going over near the uprights, after they took the ball through numerous phases and with some sublime inter-passing. The best part of the try was the angles of the support runners. Boshoff's conversion levelled the scores – 13-all.
A scrum penalty soon afterwards afforded Boshoff the chance to regain the lead and he did not disappoint his growing legion of fans – 16-13 after 38 minutes. And that is how it stayed till the half-time break.
The Cheetahs got the first points after the break, Sarel Pretorius being awarded a five-pointer that required several views by the TMO – who may well have got it wrong. However, the try stood and with Smit adding the extras, the Cheetahs took a 20-16 lead after 45 minutes.
On the 50-minute mark the Lions were awarded a penalty, following a very effective maul, and Boshoff made it a one-point (19-20) game.
The Cheetahs again got the benefit of a questionable call by the referee – a scrum penalty – and Sarel Pretorius went for a quick tap. The disjointed Lions defence was quickly exposed and Johan Sadie went over. Elgar Watts, who took over the kicking duties from the injured Smit, added the extras – 27-19 and the bonus point secured.
As the game moved into the final quarter the Lions launched another fierce raid, earning a penalty and setting up a line-out, from where Willie Britz forced his way over for the home team's second try. Elton Jantjies, on for Boshoff, failed with the conversion attempt from the touchline – 24-27.
A breakdown penalty against the Lions allowed Watts to stretch the Cheetahs' lead to 30-24, with 12 minutes left on the clock.
Again the Lions hit back in typical fashion – winning a penalty, setting up a line-out maul, winning another penalty, then followed a quick tap-'n-go and Ruan Dreyer burrowed his way over. Jantjies failed with the conversion as the Lions trailed by a point – 29-30, with less than 10 minutes to go.
The Cheetahs now opted for deep kicks into the Lions half, forcing the home team to attempt a long-range, high-risk try to win the game.
However, the Cheetahs managed to hang on and win a late turnover as the Lions searched for a winner.
Man of the match: Derick Minnie showed his value at the breakdown and Warwick Tecklenburg's work on defence was invaluable to the home side. Marnitz Boshoff's tactical appreciation – he kept driving the Cheetahs back with long-range kicks – along with his goal-kicking and his ability to break the line made him the Lions' most valuable player. Elgar Watts was key to the Cheetahs' attacking lines, as he took the ball to the advantage line more often than has been the case this year. However, the key was the hard work by some of the Cheetahs' forwards – No.8 Philip van der Walt, with some powerful bursts, and lock Lodewyk de Jager, moved around the park like a loose forward. Our award goes, jointly, to these two.
For the Golden Lions:
Tries: Hanekom, Britz, Dreyer
Pens: Boshoff 4
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Ebersohn, Prinsloo, Pretorius, Sadie
Cons: Smit, Watts
Pens: Smit, Watts
Golden Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Guy Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie (captain), 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Lambert Groenewald, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Lionel Cronje/Robert de Bruyn.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johan Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johannes Prinsloo (captain), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Jon-Roy Jenkinson, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, Wian du Preez, 18 Teboho Mohoje, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Joubert Engelbrecht, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Shaun Veldsman