JOHANNESBURG – The Golden Lions are in the Currie Cup semi-finals after registering a convincing win against the defending champions, the Cheetahs, here in their final regular season game on Saturday.
In a hotly contested affair, the Lions ran in five tries to the Cheetahs’ two, but only really sealed the deal late on, scoring three tries in the final 10 minutes.
They will now travel to Cape Town to take on Western Province on Saturday, the Capetonians having finished second on the log to the Lions’ third.
In the other semi-final, the Sharks will host the Blue Bulls.
The home team dominated the first period, but they would have felt they left a few points out on the field at the interval.
They were the more powerful side in the set-pieces and also attacked far more intelligently and often than the Cheetahs, but only managed the one five-pointer.
It came as early as the fourth minute when Courtnall Skosan went over in the corner after a bustling start by the hosts.
And at the halfway stage of the first period they were deservedly 10-3 up after Jaco van der Walt and Ernst Stapelberg had exchanged penalties, and they looked to be well on their way to putting plenty of daylight between themselves and the men from Bloemfontein.
The Cheetahs looked flat and out-of-sorts, with their backs especially poor, and it appeared the decision to play most of the PRO14 players – who are on a break from that competition – was going to backfire big time.
At 13-3, after a second Van der Walt penalty, things didn’t look good. But a try from out of the blue by Makazole Mapimpi raised their spirits, and their game, and the Cheetahs were all of a sudden back in it.
The five-pointer came very much against the run of play. With the Lions hot on the attack, Harold Vorster forced an offload which landed up in the hands of Mapimpi, who ran all of 65 metres to score his team’s opening try.
Just three points behind at the break, the Cheetahs had everything to play for in the second half.
But before 10 minutes had elapsed, the Lions were back in charge after the introduction of Malcolm Marx from the bench – who brought some firepower to the contest – and a second try by the home team.
Flank Cyle Brink went over in the corner and Van der Walt soon added a penalty, leaving the Cheetahs with plenty to do to get back in the game.
And boy did they try hard. For the next 20 minutes they set up camp in Lions territory and threatened to score on more than one occasion, but they were twice penalised for hanging on to the ball at ruck-time and, combined with some excellent scramble defence by the home team, they couldn’t break through.
Skosan got his second try for the night with 10 minutes to go, and he was soon followed to the tryline by Kwagga Smith, who dotted down for the Lions’ fourth, and it was all over for the defending champions.
They would, however, get a late consolation try, scored by Paul Schoeman, but it mattered little in the greater scheme of things; more so when Lions replacement Robert Kruger went over in the last move of the game.
The men from Bloemfontein can now focus solely on the PRO14, while the Lions will kick off preparations on Monday for Saturday’s semi-final against Western Province at Newlands.
Golden Lions 44 – Tries: Courtnall Skosan (2), Cyle Brink, Kwagga Smith, Robert Kruger. Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (4), Andries Coetzee (1). Penalties: Van der Walt (3).
Free State Cheetahs 17 – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Paul Schoeman. Conversions: Ernst Stapelberg (2). Penalty: Stapelberg (1).