Bloemfontein - Lions coach Johan Ackermann has lauded his young, inexperienced side for its 21-20 victory over the Cheetahs in the first Super Rugby game of the season at the Free State stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
AS IT HAPPENED: Cheetahs v Lions
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Travelling with six debutantes in their starting line up and 11 in total in the match day 23, few backed the visitors for an upset.
But Ackermann's charges stuck together and showed that an absence of Super Rugby caps did not necessarily doom a side against an experienced outfit like the Cheetahs.
Although the hosts scored the only tries of the game, it was a high penalty count and the kicking boot of Lions fly half Marnitz Boshoff that eventually sank the Cheetahs. Boshoff kicked six penalties and a match winning drop goal to make sure his side was in second place in the South African conference.
"I really don't know what to say. I am at a loss for words. I am just so proud of the guys that stuck in there to give us the victory. This is a huge boost for us confidence wise and we will take much momentum from this for our next game against the Stormers next weekend," Ackermann said.
It wasn't a series winning performance, with the Lions having much trouble in the scrums. The visitors got pinned regularly by referee Craig Joubert, but after half time it seemed their understanding of the referee's interpretation at scrum time was much better.
The Lions turned over much possession, another positive they would build on for next weekend.
"We struggled in the scrums, but as soon as we understood what Craig wanted, it went a whole lot better. We also turned over some good possession. We are lucky that we have guys like Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Derick Minnie who all play to the ball. That makes the world of difference."
Lions captain Whiteley in turn lauded fly half Boshoff for his kicking performance, adding that the last minute drop goal was one that the Johannesburg based side practised.
"All credit must go to Marnitz. He dropped back and slotted the drop goal. It was something we worked on during the week and we even got it wrong a couple of times. Luckily it worked when it was needed," Whiteley said.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske was understandably unhappy. His side dominated most of the game on the defence and attack. In the end ill discipline cost them the match.
"I am very disappointed, there is no getting around it. This was one of our worst performances to date. We had so many chances to score tries, but we never capitalised on it. It was very frustrating.
"I never once felt that the Lions threatened our goal line and yet we couldn't manage to beat them. What is needed is a huge mind shift by the players before we take on the Bulls this Friday in Bloemfontein," he said.