A late drop goal from Marnitz Boshoff sealed a dramatic 21-20 win for the Lions over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Lions number 10 stunned the Cheetahs faithful when he dropped into the pocket, in the 80th minute and landed his snap-shot from 40 metres out, after his team-mates had set up the perfect platform by taking the ball through seven phases in the build-up.
The Cheetahs, in particular Elagar Watts, will be kicking themselves as the replacement fly-half missed a fairly easy penalty two minutes earlier which would have secured victory for the home side.
Earlier, there were obvious signs of rustiness from both sets of players, with it being the season opener, none more so than Cheetahs fly-half Johan Goosen, who missed two shots at goal inside the opening 10 minutes.
His first effort was a difficult one, from just inside his half, after after Schalk van der Merwe was penalised for a ruck infringement but the second attempt was fairly easy by his standards, after the Lions' backs were pinned for being offside inside their own 22.
The Lions eventually took the lead in the 16th minute when Marnitz Boshoff added a penalty after referee Craig Joubert overturned his decision to award a penalty to the hosts when was pinned for ill discipline off the ball.
Goosen drew his side level when he slotted a three-pointer, five minutes later, after the Lions front row were penalised for illegal scrummaging.
The game came alive five minutes later when a superb piece of indivualism from Willie le Roux set up Raymond Rhule for the game's opening try.
Le Roux gathered a loose ball on his 10-metre line before, beating four defenders with deft footwork and an excellent burst of speed. He drew in the last defender, just outside the Lions' 22, before offloading to Rhule who crossed the whitewash without having a finger laid on him.
Goosen added the extras, which gave the hosts a 10-3 lead, but Boshoff narrowed the gap to four points, on the half-hour mark, when he landed a penalty after Francois Venter failed to roll away at a ruck.
The rest of the half was characterised by several handling errors and poor decision making from both sides and the only other points came via the boot of Boshoff, who succeeded with his third penalty, on the stroke of half-time, after Lood de Jager infringed at a ruck.
The early stages of the second half was like the latter part of the first stanza error-strewn but the Cheetahs extended their lead in the 50th minute after another momet of magic from Le Roux. The Cheetahs were hammering away at the Lions' try-line before the Bok full-back threw a sublime long-pass to Cornal Hendricks wh0 scored in the right-hand corner.
Goosen succeeded with a difficult spot-kick, from close to the touchline, which made the score 17-9 to the home side. Five minutes later, Sarel Pretorius was penalised at a ruck and Boshoff maintained his perfect goal-kicking record for the match when he goaled another three-pointer from the kicking tee.
The game took a dramatic turn in the 61st minute when replacement back-row Jean Cook was sent to the sin bin for a late charge on Boshoff.
The Lions number 10 dusted himself off to kick his fifth penalty and with the score at 17-15, and a holding a numerical advantage, the Lions tried desperately to take the lead.
They came close on a couple of occasion but poor handling in the final quarter cost them dearly. Another scrum infringement by the Lions allowed Elgar Watts to add another penalty for the hosts before Boshoff replied with his sixth three-pointer after Coenie Oosthuizen was pinned at a ruck.
Penalites were coming thick and fast and after Watts missed his chance to seal the win for his team Boshoff held his nerve in the dying moments to finish the game as the Johannesburg-based outfit's matchwinner.
Tries: Rhule, Hendricks
Cons: Goosen 2
Pen: Goosen, Watts
Yellow card: Cook (61st minute)
Penalties: Boshoff 6
Drop goal: Boshoff
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Ligtoring Landman, 20 Jean Cook, 21 Sarel Pretorius, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Rayno Benjamin.
Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha , 14 Deon van Rensburg , 13 Lionel Mapoe , 12 Stefan Watermeyer , 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Coenie van Wyk, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.
Referee: Craig Joubert
By David Skippers