Johannesburg - The MTN Golden Lions started off the defence of their Currie Cup title with a fine 43-20 win over the Free State Cheetahs at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday afternoon. They scored four tries for a bonus point and Butch James contributed 21 points with a faultless eight from eight kicks.
Except for the third quarter, when the Cheetahs fielded a number of replacements and came back strongly, the Lions were in control throughout.
The Lions led 23-6 at halftime, including two fine tries.
They had dominated possession and territory, scrummed well and were impressive with their drives from lineouts. The forwards were quicker to the breakdown than Free State, and at the back the Lions were full of running and spread the ball wide whenever possible.
They also won turnovers when it mattered most - notably on two occasions just after the break when Free State pressured the Lions' tryline and looked like reducing the 17-point deficit.
After one of those turnovers the Lions nearly scored at the other end -but then the Cheetahs turned over possession and Sarel Pretorius, with some nifty footwork, scored under the posts.
However, the new referral system cost the visitors as the awarded try was overturned and a scrum ordered 60 metres back. However, it was only a temporary setback and young wing Raymond Rhule scored two scintillating tries in a great fight back, with only Butch James's fourth penalty keeping the Lions' score going.
The Lions lead had shrunk from 23-6 to 26-20 with 18 minutes' play left before Lions lock Hendrik Roodt galloped in following a good Lions build-up. James converted for a full house of seven kicks (33-20) and then made it eight with his fifth penalty with seven minutes remaining (36-20).
In another first for these two teams the trial Pitch Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) was implemented 11 minutes into the match when Lions lock Hendrik Roodt left the field to be assessed.
He returned a few minutes later to make an impressive contribution that included a great try - and the PSCA was used on a number of other occasions, with the players passed fit every time.
Golden Lions: Tries: Derick Minnie, Andries Coetzee, Hendrik Roodt, Ruan Combrinck. Conversions: Butch James (3), Gus Cronje. Penalties: James (5).
Toyota Free State Cheetahs: Tries: Raymond Rhule (2). Riaan Smit (2).
Penalties: Smit (2)