Cheetahs fightback sinks Lions
The home side also secured a bonus point after scoring five tries, which also helps consolidate the position at the top of the standings.
The Lions, who had an 11-point lead half-time, went home empty handed and could fall further behind in the race for a place in the play-offs if other results don't go their way.
The Lions made a big statement of intent in the first scrum of the game after when they won a penalty after some sterling work by Dylan Smith.
Jaco van der Walt stepped up and converted the penalty from 50 metres out to put his team 3-0 ahead in the third minute after initially causing that scrum on halfway when he kicked the ball straight out into touch from the opening kick-off.
Van der Walt extended the lead a few minutes later with another penalty before the Cheetahs had an opportunity to get some points of their own. However, flyhalf Niel Marais pushed his kick wide.
The Lions were putting points on the board whenever they entered the Cheetahs half and the trend continued in the 12th minute when Van der Walt knocked over another penalty after some offside play by the home side.
After doing so much good work with the boot for his team, Van der Walt was then given a yellow card after finding himself on the wrong side of the offside line on too many occasions when the Cheetahs were on attack.
Van der Walt's final indiscretion before he was sent off gave Marais an opportunity to reduce the deficit to six points.
The Cheetahs were then dealt a blow when fullback Clayton Blommetjies was given a yellow card a minute later for not rolling away and soon after that the Lions restored their nine-point lead when Andries Coetzee converted a penalty after some more good work by Dylan Smith at scrum time.
It was the home side, however, who would score the first try of the game when wing Raymond Rhule found himself in space to score a try after a great hand-off in the Cheetahs' 22. Marais could not convert, but the Cheetahs were just four points behind going into the final 14 minutes of the first half.
The Lions then got a try of their own a few minutes later when Rohan Janse van Rensburg bashed his way over the tryline from close range after a quick tap by his captain Ross Cronje. Van der Walt converted the try to give his team an 11-point lead.
Things then got a little worse for the Cheetahs when Janse van Rensburg crashed through the Cheetahs defence again before putting hooker Robbie Coetzee into space to run in and score a try. Van der Walt stepped up again to convert for an 18-point lead.
However, it was the home side who would have the final say of the half when lock Reniel Hugo gathered the ball after a neat grubber by Niel Marais to canter in for his team's second try of the game in the 37th minute. At half-time it was 26-15 in favour of the away side.
In the second half, discipline continued to be a major factor in the game when Lions No.8 Fabian Booysen became the third person to be sent off with a yellow card after some cynical play at ruck time.
The Cheetahs took full advantage this when scrumhalf Shaun Venter dived over for his team' third try after some swift passing in the Lions' 22.
The home side were playing with confidence after that score and they were soon in again when wing Ryno Benjamin scored his team's bonus-point try after the Lions' defence was cut to shreds in the midfield. Marais added the extras to give the Cheetahs the lead (27-26) for the first time in the game in the 55th minute.
The Cheetahs then extended their lead to four points when Marais converted a penalty to make it 30-26 in the 60th minute.
Five minutes later it was Van der Walt's turn to add some points to the scoreboard when he knocked over a penalty from straight in front to reduce the deficit to just one point.
As the game was drawing to an end it was the Lions who were dominating playing in all facets, expect the scrums which had to be downgraded to the uncontested variety because of injuries.
However, the game was put to bed in the 79th minute when Cheetahs scrumhalf Tian Meyer stretched over for a try from a scrum a couple of metres out from the Lions' tryline.
Marais added the extras to seal a valuable bonus-point win for the home side.
Man of the match: There were a number of contenders from both teams. Rohan Janse van Rensburg was strong with ball in hand for the Lions, while Albertus Smith was strong in the physical exchanges. For the Free State Cheetahs, Shaun Venter had a fantastic game, while Ryno Benjamin did some good stuff around the park. However, the award goes to Nico Lee – he was outstanding with ball in hand and gave the Lions plenty of problems when he ran at them.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Rhule, Hugo, Venter, Benjamin, Meyer
Cons: N Marais 3
Pens: N Marais 2
For Golden Lions:
Tries: Janse van Rensburg, R Coetzee
Cons: Van der Walt, Van der Walt
Pens: Van der Walt 4, A Coetzee
Yellow cards: Jaco van der Walt (Golden Lions, 16 – continuous infringements, offside), Clayton Blommetjies (Free Sate Cheetahs, 18 – cynical play, not rolling away), Fabian Booysen (Golden Lions, 49 – cynical play, hands in the ruck)
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (captain), 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Michael van der Spuy.
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Selom Gavor, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje (captain), 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus Smith, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Pieter Scholtz, 18 Martin Muller, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Jaco Kotze
TMO: JJ Wagner