Cape Town - The Lions have opened their 2017 Super Rugby account with a hard fought 28-25 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
As it happened: Cheetahs v Lions
With all the rain in Free State over the past week, conditions were very slippery underfoot.
Both teams took time to settle into the match with the Lions suffering an early setback when centre Howard Mnisi was forced off with a knee injury in the 12th minute.
It was the Lions who opened the scoring in the 13th minute through an Elton Jantjies penalty but Fred Zeilinga quickly struck back with a three-pointer of his own after the visitors were penalised at scrum time.
Another Jantjies penalty in the 23rd minute put the visitors into a 6-3 lead.
Although both teams were willing to give the ball air, there was little attacking spark on display with both defences holding out easily enough.
With just a few minutes to go till half-time, Clayton Blommetjies scythed through the Lions defence only to lose his footing after a desperate Harold Vorster ankle-tap.
Faf de Klerk received a yellow card at the resulting ruck for intentionally killing the ball and Zeilinga slotted over a penalty from right in front of the uprights to bring the scores level at 6-6 which remained the scoreline when the half-time whistle blew.
The Cheetahs took advantage of their extra man early in the second half when Raymond Rhule pounced on a loose ball and sprinted 30m to score a converted try.
Zeilinga slotted another penalty to extend the Cheetahs lead to 16-6 in the 45th minute.
It was essential that the Lions scored next and they did, albeit with a little luck after Mapoe tried to grubber through only for the ball to bounce back off a Cheetahs defender for the winger to collect.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg was the man to round off the movement with Elton Jantjies adding the extras to cut the score to 16-13 in favour of the home side.
Zeilinga converted another penalty in the 58th minute to extend the Cheetahs lead to 19-13 but four minutes later, Jantjies brought the deficit to just three points after the Cheetahs were caught offside at a ruck. The Lions flyhalf made no mistake with his penalty attempt to bring the score to 19-16.
Another breakdown penalty, this time awarded to the Cheetahs allowed Zeilinga to convert another kick at goal to push the Cheetahs lead out to 22-16 as the match ebbed and flowed.
The Lions were awarded another penalty in the 66th minute, and Warren Whitely instructed Jantjies to setup a lineout. With the Lions forwards rumbling towards the line for what looked like a certain try, Francois Uys deliberately brought down the maul resulting in a penalty try for the visitors and a card for Uys.
The Lions now led 23-22 with 11 minutes left in the match, the majority of which the Cheetahs would have to play with 14 men after Uys' indiscretion.
Zeilinga's unerring boot, however, soon saw the Cheetahs regain the lead, this time after their driving maul was sacked by the Lions forwards.
With the score at 25-23, it was anyone's game and it was a sniping blindside break by replacement scrumhalf Ross Cronje that sent Janse van Rensburg away down the right wing for his second try of the match that effectively sealed the game for the visitors.
Jaco van der Walt could not convert as the Lions led 28-25 with just two minutes left, a lead they managed to hold onto at the final hooter.
Try: Raymond Rhule
Conversion: Fred Zeilinga (1)
Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (6)
Tries: Rohan Janse van Rensburg (2), Penalty try
Conversion: Elton Jantjies (1)
Penalties: Elton Jantjies (3)
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Nico Lee, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (captain), 1 Charles Marais
Substitutes: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Danie Mienie, 18 Ox Nche, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Ryno Benjamin
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Jaco van der Walt