Bloemfontein - The Free State Cheetahs weathered a massive comeback by the Golden Lions in the second half of their Currie Cup match at the Free State Stadium on Friday to snatch a 26-23 win.
The hosts were well and truly in control at half time, leading the Lions 23-3 after a stellar first half, but the visitors came back strongly in the second half, and some lacklustre play by the Cheetahs nearly saw the Lions through to victory.
The visitors had the first chance at early points in the third minute, but flyhalf Elton Jantjies was instructed to kick for touch rather than goal.
The Cheetahs however countered the resulting driving maul and flyhalf Elgar Watts got the clearing kick away.
The hosts looked the better side in the first couple of minutes and drew first blood in the eighth minute when scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius caught the Lions defence napping and put away centre Johann Sadie in the corner.
Wing Riaan Smit converted.
The Lions looked full of running rugby in the first 40 minutes, but that last pass nearly always went astray when the Cheetahs defence didn't do enough to keep them out.
The Lions finally got on the board when Jantjies kicked a penalty in the 21st minute, the visitors opting to kick at goal rather than touch that time.
But the Cheetahs kept on pressing and Smit kicked his first penalty of the evening a short while later.
From there both the Cheetahs and Lions played some exiting rugby, but neither succeeded in breaching the other's defence.
Smit settled things down with his second penalty in the 28th minute to give the Cheetahs a ten point lead.
The Lions were left one man short in the final ten minutes before half time after Jantjies was yellow carded for throwing the ball away.
That left the Cheetahs with some good momentum which the hosts used to their advantage when eighth man and captain Boom Prinsloo burst over only to be held up.
The Lions were lucky not to concede a try in Jantjies' absence, but they did infringe elsewhere and that gave Smit the chance to extend his side's lead to 13 points with five minutes to play before the break.
The hosts had the final say before half time when scrumhalf Pretorius scored under the posts after an attacking scrum for the Cheetahs.
Smit converted to make it 23-3 in favour of the home side at the break.
Finally the Lions got some more points on the board via a penalty by Jantjies, which appeared to give the visitors some confidence, which was enhanced by the try scored by replacement fullback Ruan Nel in the 59th minutes.
Jantjies converted to leave his side ten points adrift.
Wing Anthony Volmink's clever try from the break down area on the Cheetahs goal line and Jantjies' conversion put the Lions just three points behind the hosts.
Jantjies also kicked another penalty to level the scores before Smit again opened a three point lead that eventually sealed the game.
Free State Cheetahs – 26 Tries: Johann Sadie, Sarel Pretorius; Conversions: Riaan Smit (2); Penalties: Smit (4)
Golden Lions – 23 Tries: Ruhan Nel, Anthony Volmink; Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2); Penalties: Jantjies (3).
Free State Cheetahs:
Hennie Daniller, 14. Riaan Smit, 13. Johann Sadie, 12. Robert Ebersohn,
11. Raymond Rhule, 10. Elgar Watts, 9. Sarel Pretorius, 8. Boom Prinsloo
(captain), 7. Davon Raubenheimer, 6. Lappies Labuschagne, 5. Waltie
Vermeulen, 4. Teboho Mohoje, 3. Rossouw de Klerk, 2. Hercu Liebenberg,
1. Trevor Nyakane.
Substitutes: 16. Ethienne Reynecke, 17. Wian
du Preez, 18. Freddie Ngoza, 19. Tertius Daniller, 20. Kevin Luiters,
21. Willie du Plessis, 22. Piet Lindeque
Marnitz Boshoff, 14. Andries Coetzee, 13. Robert De Bruyn, 12. Dylan
Des Fountain, 11. Anthony Volmink, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Tian Meyer, 8.
Willie Britz, 7. Derek Minnie (captain), 6. Warwick Tecklenberg, 5.
Franco van der Merwe, 4. Ruan Venter, 3. Bees Roux, 2. Willie Wepener,
1. CJ van der Linde
Substitutes: 16. Robbie Coetzee, 17. Jacques van
Rooyen, 18. Hugo Kloppers, 19. Jaco Kriel, 20. Ross Cronje, 21. Deon
Helberg, 22. Ruhan Nel