The Lions produced one of the shocks of the season as they trounced the defending Absa Currie Cup champions 39-28 on Friday night.
The result was sweet revenge for Eugene Eloffâ€™s charges as they turned around a 59-5 first round thrashing to win their fourth match on the trot.
The Lions were simply outstanding in the first 40 minutes as they raced into a 22-0 lead at the break after dominating the Cheetahs in every facet of play bar, perhaps, the scrums.
The Lions scored five tries to four and took home five valuable log points that keeps them well in the race for a surprise semi-final spot. Coupled with the Blue Bulls loss at Newlands, the Lions are now just one win away from breaking into the top four.
The heroes for the Lions were Grant Esterhuizen an 11th hour replacement for Louis Ludik and Earl Rose who caused havoc every time he touched the ball. Captain Wikus van Heerden again led from the front and was rewarded with a try for his efforts.
Apart from being shoved back in the first two scrums of the game the Lions were all over the Cheetahs in the opening 10 minutes. The Lions looked dangerous with ball in hand. The confidence from three consecutive victories was evident as they ran with purpose, even from deep.
Most of the play, however, took place in the Cheetahs half as the Lions prodded for an opening. Only desperate defence kept them at bay, but as the first quarter of an hour ticked by, the scoreboard still read 0-0.
But the Lions were still full of enterprise, while the visitors were stuttering in their efforts. And the Lions, despite a hammering up front were controlling the possession and territory.
The Cheetahs though are not Currie Cup champions for nothing and started to spread the ball wide. A deft kick by flyhalf Meyer Bosman in the 17th minute found a galloping Eddie Fredericks, but he was bundled into touch a metre from the line. Unfortunately that was the last time the Cheetahs looked like troubling the home side.
The Lions soon assumed total control and outside centre Jaco Pretorius got the first try after a good run by Wylie Human who had received a beautiful flat pass from Doppies la Grange.
Human was tracked down by Alwyn Hollenbach just outside the 22. The ball sprang loose and Ricky Januarie hacked ahead for Pretorius to score in the corner. Earl Rose missed the tough, angled conversion.
The Lions though had got the bit between their teeth and proceeded to make the champs look like chumps as they were utterly dominant. Januarie â€“ who was having another fine game â€“ scored the second try five minutes later, after Van Schalkwyk had charged down Bosmanâ€™s clearance kick. This time Rose made no mistake.
The Lions were simply irrepressible and three minutes from the break captain Wikus van Heerden was on hand to bulldoze over after more sustained pressure inside the Cheetahs 22. That gave the Lions a 22-point cushion at the interval.
The second half started like the first ended. And after just a minute, one of the tries of the season was scored. It was all about the silky skills of Rose. He gathered a high ball just outside his 22, danced past two tackles, chipped and gathered. He was hauled down on the touchline, but managed to off-load to Human who cantered in between the poles. 29-0 to the Lions.
The Cheetahs made a slew of changes, but all they managed was two consolation tries. First replacement wing Phillip Burger slipped through in the 54th minute and then Kabamba Floors finished off an excellent move five minutes later. Willem de Waal kicked both conversions and the score stood at 29-14.
But a superb solo try by flyhalf Jaco van Schalkwyk under the poles meant the Cheetahs had to score at least four times to overhaul their opponents.
In the end the Cheetahs managed two more converted tries in the last eight minutes, but it was not enough to deny the Lions a fully deserved victory.
Lions: Tries: Jaco Pretorius (22nd min), Ricky Januarie (27th min), Wikus van Heerden (37th min), Wylie Human (41st min), Jaco van Schalkwyk (66th min). Conversions: Earl Rose 4 (27th min, 37th min, 41st min, 66th min). Penalties: Rose 1 (33rd min), Mark Harris 1 (80th min).
Cheetahs: Tries: Phillip Burger 2 (54th min, 72nd min), Kabamba Floors (59th min), Ryno van der Merwe (79th min). Conversions: Willem de Waal 4 (54th min, 59th min, 72nd min, 79th min).
Late change: Grant Esterhuizen for Louis Ludik at left wing.
Lions: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Wylie Human, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Grant Esterhuizen, 10 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 9 Ricky Januarie; 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Cobus Grobler, 3 Bertus Smit, 2 Ethienne Reynecke, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 James van der Walt, 17 Marius Hurter, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Roland Bernard, 20 Nic Eyre, 21 Louis Ludik, 22 Mark Harris.
Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Hendrik Meyer, 11 Alwyn Hollenbach, 10 Meyer Bosman, 9 Michael Claassens; 8 Ryno van der Merwe, 7 Darron Nel, 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 Rory Duncan, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco du Toit, 1 Ollie le Roux (captain).
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Corniel van Zyl, 19 Bian Vermaak, 20 Noel Oeslchig, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Phillip Burger.
By Andrew Hollely, at Ellis Park