Super Rugby: Lions stun Cheetahs 21-20 in dramatic Super Rugby curtain-raiser
By Ben Hampshire | @BH92. Last Updated: 27/02/14 3:35pm
Marnitz Boshoff kicked all 21 points as Super Rugby newcomers the Lions opened the 2014 season with a shock 21-20 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Tries from Raymond Rhule and Cornal Hendricks looked like they would the Cheetahs over the line, but an outstanding display of kicking, including a last-gasp drop-goal, stunned the Cheetahs in a dramatic Super Rugby curtain-raiser.
Boshoff fired the visitors into the lead but Johan Goosen levelled the scores moments later, before Rhule raced home the first try of the season. Goosen added the extras to give the Cheetahs a 10-3 lead but Boshoff ensured the Lions remained in contention, kicking two further penalties to make it a one-point game at the break.
The Cheetahs stepped up a gear following the restart and looked ready to break loose when Cornal Hendricks touched down their second try in the 48th minute; but Boshoff kicked with unerring accuracy to keep the Lions in touch, before slotting home a 40-yard drop-goal attempt to steal victory from the claws of defeat.
Springbok fly-half Goosen made his Cheetahs return - after missing the entire 2013 Currie Cup campaign through injury - and his lay-off proved telling as he missed two attempts from the kicking tee in the opening 10 minutes.
Despite enjoying dominance at the breakdown in the opening exchanges, the Cheetahs were made to pay as referee Craig Joubert reversed a penalty in favour of the Lions after an unnecessary push in the face from Boom Prinsloo.
Boshoff made no mistakes in bisecting the uprights as the Lions drew first blood on their comeback, following a year-long exile.
The lead was short-lived however, as the Cheetahs levels the scores moments later as Goosen recovered from a hefty tackle to slot home at the third time of asking.
Super Rugby's first try of 2014 soon followed as Naka Drotske's men stunned the Lions with a spontaneous piece of counter-attacking play.
Springbok full-back Willie le Roux was the catalyst, jinking his way into Lions territory before offloading to Rhule on the left wing, who completed the move with blistering pace and panache. Goosen slotted the conversion from the touchline with ease.
As the Cheetahs threatened to break loose, Johan Ackermann's side - boasting seven tournament debutants - remained resilient and went to the interval with just a one-point deficit, with Boshoff adding two more penalties as he kept his perfect record intact.
Following the restart, Drotske's side stepped up a gear and exposed the Lions' defensive frailties. An excellent break from Cheetahs scrum-half Shaun Venter took the hosts close before a high tackle gave them a penalty advantage, which winger Hendricks - on his Super Rugby debut - took full advantage of as he dotted down their second try, which Goosen converted.
Boshoff brought the visitors back within five points at 17-12 with his fourth successful penalty of the afternoon, as they started to wrestle their way back into contention.
Cheetahs substitute Jean Cook gifted the Lions a one-man personnel advantage after he went for a dangerous tackle on Boshoff, which Joubert deemed a yellow-card offence, and the Lions stand-off reduced the gap to two points with the subsequent penalty.
As the second half wore on the Lions inexperience proved costly as they conceded a penalty at the scrum, which allowed replacement kicker Elgar Watts to give the Cheetahs a five-point cushion with 10 minutes to play.
Boshoff brought the Lions within two points as he added a sixth penalty to his peerless place-kicking display, before Watts squandered the opportunity to restore a five-point lead for the Cheetahs.
Watts' error from the kicking tee cost the Cheetahs dearly as the Lions piled on the pressure with the klaxon fast approaching and Boshoff sealed the points for Ackermann's side with a successful long-range drop-goal attempt.