The Lions send the South African Rugby Union a very strong message from Ellis Park on Saturday.
The men from Johannesburg beat the Cheetahs 33-17 in an exciting and entertaining match, the second in the 'Lions challenge' - a series of games arranged to keep the Lions active after SARU kicked them out of Super Rugby in controversial fashion, to make room for the Southern Kings.
While some pundits will claim the Cheetahs fielded mainly a second-string squad, the Lions also started with a team showing nine changes from last week and giving a number of youngsters a good run.
The Cheetahs initially had the edge - taking a 17-7 lead just after the half-time break.
However, the Lions finally switched on and scored 26 unanswered points in the last half-hour to shut out the visitors and send SARU a reminder of what may well be one of the national body's biggest blunders.
The Lions, as they did so often last year, were again running everything. Their approach may be exciting, but at times also naive and often costs them dearly. There needs to be a bit more of a balance to their approach, but when it comes off it is great to watch - as it was in the second half at Ellis Park.
The Lions' scrum was very dominant in the opening stages, but Johannes Prinsloo did a stirling job at No.8 to ensue the Cheetahs still got the ball away. In the second half the Cheetahs' scrum improved dramatically, but they were deemed to have scrummed illegally at times, meaning they still did not have a solid platform to work from and had to rely mostly on turnovers - which became decidedly less as the Lions found their rhythm.
In stark contract to the scrum, the Lions' line-out was mostly a shambles and their hands also let them down all too often. Another aspect of the Lions' game that needs addressing is their restarts - they simply turned over far too much ball.
Probably the best aspect of the Lions' game - apart from some brilliant individuals - is their collective defence. They stopped so many
For the Cheetahs Marnus Schoeman always lived on the edge and was allowed to get away with tactics at the breakdown that would have landed many other players in the sin bin.
The best aspect of the Cheetahs game is how they made it look so easy to score in the first half, while the Lions laboured when they had the ball in hand before the break. The Lions also made a litany of errors that cost them - not that the Cheetahs were error free.
However, the introduction of Michael Bondisio, Lionel Cronje and Andries Coetzee from the Lions' bench showed the value that players with Super Rugby qualities can provide and provided the spark that aw the Lions run the Cheetahs ragged.
The Cheetahs' best players were those with international experience - Sevens Springboks Johannes Prinsloo and Robert Ebersohn, while new Bok tourist Raymond Rhule's ability with ball in hand often cause problems for the Lions' defence.
The first real scoring opportunity came after about three minutes - Marnus Schoeman going off his feet on the wrong side of a ruck - but Marnitz Boshoff hooker his attempt past the upright.
JP Nel made the Lions pay a dear price for their naive approach when he exposed their leaky defence and strolled over for the opening try. Francois Brummer's conversion made it 7-0.
Brummer then had a chance to stretch the lead, but hit the upright.
At the end of the first quarter the Cheetahs' new Springbok wing, Raymond Rhule, was yellow carded for a spear tackle - reducing his side to 14 men.
The Lions finally got some reward for their all-out attacking approach when Ruhan Nel went over to round off a great concerted attack just short of the half-hour mark and Boshoff added the extras to make it 7-all.
Almost immediately the Cheetahs hit back - Raymond Rhule going over after swift hands opened the Lions' defence. The call went to the TMO, who ruled that there was no clear and obvious forward pass. Brummer couldn't add the extras - 12-7.
Marnitz Boshoff then missed another shot at goal - as the Cheetahs retained their five-point (12-7) lead at the end of the first half.
Hennie Daniller opened the second-half scoring when the Cheetahs again opened up the Lions' defence with quick hands out wide. While Brummer couldn't add the extras, at 17-7 the games was beginning to slip away from the home side.
Two moments of individual brilliance then turned the game on its head.
First Nicolaas Hanekom scored after a chip-'n-collect, before Anthony Volmink scored after a Bondisio chip. Boshoff kicked both conversions and the Lions were suddenly 21-17 head as the final quarter approached.
The Cheetahs then launched a number of furious raids on the Lions' line, but the Lions' managed to hold out - even though the referee spoke to them about repeatedly playing offside.
Lionel Cronje continued to make an impact, scoring the Lions' fourth try - coming form a very effective kick-'n-chase. Boshoff's conversion made it 28-17.
Nicolaas Hanekom then sealed the game with a try, after an intercept by Lionel Cronje. Boshoff couldn't add the extras, but at 33-17 and less than 10 minutes to go the Cheetahs had a mountain to climb.
However, the Lions had their tails up and they were pressing for a late score. They came close, but were just short -
Man of the match: Andries Coetzee and Michael Bondisio both had a huge influence after coming off the bench. However, Lionel Cronje won our award. He may have been screaming for game time at the Stormers and Bulls - without getting much - but if he continues to make this much of an impact at the Lions he is guaranteed the No.10 jersey. He gave the Lions the direction they lacked in the first half and was worth every cent the Lions paid for him.
For the Lions:
Tries: Nel, Hanekom 2, Volmink, L Cronje
Cons: Boshoff 4
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Nel, Rhule, H Daniller
Yellow card: Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs, 20 - dangerous play, spear tackle)
Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruhan Nel, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Guy Cronje, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Gavin Annandale, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 JJ Breet, 19 Claude Tshidibi, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Andries Coetzee.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Hansie Graaff, 13 JP Nel, 12 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Pieter van Zyl, 8 Johannes Prinsloo, 7 Tertius Daniller, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rynhardt Landman, 19 Waltie Vermeulen, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Barry Geel, 22 Hansie Graaff.
Referee: Tiaan Jonker
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