An exceptional 78th-minute drop goal by Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff was the perfect ending for coach Johan Ackermann as his team announced their return to Vodacom Super Rugby with a 21-20 upset of the Toyota Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Boshoff contributed no less than 21 points through six penalties and the drop goal as they matched the Cheetahs in most departments and never gave up, despite never being able to cross the Cheetahs tryline during the game.
But it was a massive drop goal, in the most crucial moment of the game, that turned a close match into victory for the visitors -- and Boshoff into a hero.
The home side created more than enough chances and led the game for most of the match. However, they failed to take all their chances, allowing the Lions to keep in touch throughout and eventually steal the match at the death.
In the final analysis the Cheetahs will rue their missed chances more – especially a missed penalty by Elgar Watts five minutes from the end from in front of the posts. Watts rushed the kick and sent it wide, giving the Lions the chance they needed to take the game.
There will be nobody more pleased than the Lions faithful, who have suffered through the last year on the outskirts of Super Rugby. The win is the perfect start for the Johannesburg franchise to give them the confidence they need to make an impact in this year’s competition.
In a game which will be remembered for its entertainment more than its accuracy, both sides attacked from deep and ran the ball from all areas on the field, often making the game look like a Sevens encounter.
But as with first games of the season, there were way too many mistakes and both sides will be working on their accuracy after failing to convert a number of chances during the game.
The Lions were first to draw blood, through Boshoff’s boot, and this was quickly matched by Johan Goosen early on.
The first telling blow came from the home side, as they turned a loose ball into points when the Lions broke out of their half and grubber kicked the ball ahead.
SA Rugby Players’ Player of the year Willie le Roux showed just how dangerous he is as he fielded the ball, then broke left and then straight to run through the oncoming traffic, jinking left and sending the perfect pass to Raymond Rhule down the touchline for the opening try.
But despite a lot of ball, the Cheetahs couldn’t capitalise on the early lead and the Lions kept their nerve, clawing their way back and taking the chances that were offered them through Boshoff’s boot.
They reduced the deficit to 10-9 at halftime, leaving the field a lot more satisfied than the home side after the first 40 minutes.
The second half saw the Cheetahs strike back early, gaining early field dominance and attacking directly, with Le Roux featuring several times in a move, before he sent the ball wide to Sevens star Cornal Hendricks unmarked on the wing for his first try in Super Rugby.
The Lions despite behind on the scoreboard, continued to fight back with Boshoff slotting two penalties to get them within two points as the clock ticked down.
Watts added a penalty to put his team back in control but it wasn’t long before Boshoff capitalised on a Cheetahs mistake to make it a two point game once again.
And when Watts faltered, Boshoff held his nerve. With his team setting up the perfect platform for the match-winning drop goal, Boshoff proved he could do the necessary under some big pressure.
The Lions will be pleased with the performances of Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and especially Faf de Klerk, while the Cheetahs' Le Roux, Francois Venter and Phillip van der Walt were impressive.
But on a night where fortune favoured the brave, Boshoff emerged as the winner and his team walked away with the spoils.
Toyota Cheetahs - Tries: Raymond Rhule, Cornal Hendricks. Conversions: Johan Goosen (2). Penalties: Goosen, Elgar Watts.
Lions - Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff (6). Drop goal: Boshoff