Who would have thought? Not given a chance, the Lions stunned all and sundry in Bloemfontein yesterday by beating the Cheetahs 21-20 in their first game back in Super Rugby.
And hats off to them for an inspired display. Their hero was flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff, one of seven players in the Lions starting team making their Super Rugby debut.
Up against hot shot No 10 Johan Goosen of the Cheetahs, who was written up big-time before the start of the season, Boshoff won the battle of the flyhalves handsomely and struck the winning drop-goal in the last minute of the game.
He also slotted six penalties for a flawless kicking display; Goosen managed just two conversions and a penalty, and missed two sitters inside the first 10 minutes.
It was not a dominant display by the Lions – they made too many errors – but they worked hard as a unit and more than matched everything the Cheetahs dished up in the scrums, line-outs and at the breakdowns. They defended well on the whole, but will be angry at gifting the Cheetahs two tries.
The first, scored by wing Raymond Rhule, came after the Lions had lost the ball in a threatening position inside Cheetahs territory and Willie le Roux counter-attacked; the second after the Cheetahs took a quick-tap penalty and Le Roux caught the visitors’ defence at sixes and sevens.
Overall the Lions were excellent. Young scrumhalf Faf de Klerk did everything asked of him, while Boshoff and the men on the outside attacked with intent and defended with gusto. The new-look front row held their own, while the line-out work was excellent.
Goosen had little impact on the game and was replaced by Elgar Watts in the 63rd minute. A schoolboy mistake by Watts with three minutes left ultimately cost the Cheetahs victory. With the hosts leading 20-18 after Boshoff had just slotted a penalty, Watts rushed a penalty kick at goal, from in front, and missed. It allowed the Lions to work their way downfield and set Boshoff up for his winning drop-goal.
While the victory will boost the Lions, the Cheetahs will want to forget the performance as quickly as possible. Naka Drotske’s men were too loose, too individualistic and never enjoyed periods of sustained dominance. It may have been by the skin of their teeth, but the Lions are back in Super Rugby with a bang.
Scorers: Cheetahs – Tries: Rhule, Hendricks; Conversions: Goosen (2); Penalties: Goosen, Watts Lions – Penalties: Boshoff (6); Drop-goal: Boshoff - Sunday Tribune