SIMON BORCHARDT saw the Golden Lions begin their Currie Cup title defence with a 43-20 win against the Free State Cheetahs at Ellis Park.
It was a satisfying start from a team that came into this competition low on confidence having claimed the Super Rugby wooden spoon. The Lions went into the break with a 23-6 lead and while the Cheetahs fought back well in the second half, they didn’t do enough with all the possession they had.
Butch James and Riaan Smit exchanged penalties early in the match, before Smit’s failure to find touch resulted in the Lions’ first try. Fullback Andries Coetzee fielded the ball near the left touchline and launched an up and under, which Derick Minnie collected with ease as none of the Cheetahs players bothered to contest in the air. The No 8 sprinted away to score and James added the extras.
The Lions had had just 30% of the ball on the half-hour mark, but extended their lead to 20-6 when Coetzee dived over after a sustained attack. James slotted a penalty and almost sparked another try just before half-time when his kick ahead had the Cheetahs defence scrambling, but Lionel Mapoe was unable to pick up the loose ball.
The visitors began the second half well and thought they’d scored when replacement scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius burst away. But the TMO – who has extended powers in this year’s Currie Cup – correctly ruled that a pass earlier in the move had gone forward. Minutes later, the referee went upstairs again after Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule had scored his first Currie Cup try and this time the TMO said the last pass was good.
Andries Strauss was then sin-binned for a tip tackle and James’s penalty made it 26-13 at the end of the third quarter, but when when Rhule stepped past Coetzee to score his second try it was game on.
The Lions, though, responded almost immediately when James put second rower Hendrik Roodt away for a try, and added the conversion and a fifth penalty.
Substitute Ruan Combrinck then grabbed the bonus point with two minutes to go after taking advantage of some woeful Cheetahs defence.