Wing Sergeal Petersen scored a sensational 81st-minute try to help the Cheetahs register another Currie Cup win and break the Lions’ hearts in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening.
Before Petersen scored in the last move of the game, the Lions had led 24-23 after fighting back strongly in the second half.
The defeat leaves the Lions with one win from six matches, while the Cheetahs stay on top of the Currie Cup log before entering the PRO14 competition next weekend.
In a game that only really came to life in the second half, the Lions fought back from being 7-13 down to lead 21-13 after 50 minutes.
Replacements Hacjivah Dayimani and Aphiwe Dyantyi sparked the Lions into life after a lacklustre first period, with Dayimani scoring a wonderful try on 47 minutes after some excellent work by Dyantyi on the touchline, before Fabian Booysen also crossed, this time Dayimani making the line-break.
But the Cheetahs would not be outdone on home soil as they hit back in the last 11 minutes with tries by Sevens specialist Rosko Specman in the 69th minute and Petersen at the death to deny the Lions.
It was a memorable second 40 minutes, with plenty of exciting rugby as both teams looked to spread the ball and play with width and speed.
Unfortunately, the Lions will rue a poor first half. They did, however, open the scoring inside three minutes through lock Andries Ferreira.
The visitors dominated from the kickoff, and after taking the ball through several phases, it was the big second-row forward who powered his way over the line, which reward for a promising and sound start by the visitors.
Sadly, that was the only bit of joy for the Lions in the first 40 minutes. From the restart, the Cheetahs hit back through flank Gerhard Olivier, who charged down a Jaco van der Walt kick to collect the ball and score, and from then on, it was all the home team.
They dominated every facet of play, but especially in the scrums, where Aranos Coetzee gave Corné Fourie a torrid working over.
But it was in a number of areas where the Lions simply did not come up to scratch. Their kicking out of hand was poor, with several kicks going directly into touch, their passing didn’t always go to hand and their discipline was also poor at times.
Loosehead prop Fourie became the umpteenth Lions man to be sin-binned in the competition after he charged into a ruck without using his arms, but fortunately his 10 minutes out of the game didn’t cost his side.
As disappointing as the Lions were – they didn’t create one decent try-scoring chance since their try in the third minute – the Cheetahs also didn’t make the most of all the ball and territory they enjoyed.
But two late first-half penalties by young flyhalf Robbie Petzer ensured the Cheetahs deservedly led 13-7 at the break.
It was the ding-dong second-half battle, though, that would decide the game, and for the Cheetahs, they had the patience to hang on to the ball and take it through the phases at the death before Petersen broke the line to score the winner.
Cheetahs 30 – Tries: Gerhard Olivier, Rosko Specman, Sergeal Petersen. Conversions: Robbie Petzer (1), William Small-Smith (2). Penalties: Petzer (3).
Lions 24 – Tries: Andries Ferreira, Hacjivah Dayimani, Fabian Booysen. Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (3). Penalty: Van der Walt (1).