The Lions beat an inconsistent Cheetahs side 33-17 in a pre-season fixture played at Ellis Park on Saturday.
It was an encouraging first-half display by the Cheetahs, but ultimately they will lament their inability to maintain that form over an 80-minute period.
It’s clear that there’s been a concerted effort to improve their defence in the off-season, as despite missing a host of first-choice players, they were able to produce an aggressive and organised display in the face of a relentless Lions attack.
The Lions dominated territory and possession initially, but were undone by their own handling errors as well as the Cheetahs’ smart work at the breakdown. The visitors were especially effective in this department, slowing the Lions’ ruck recycle and in several instances making a turnover.
As was to be expected in the first game of the season, the Cheetahs were not absolutely accurate. They conceded a number of penalties at the breakdown, and Raymond Rhule was yellow carded in the 20th minute for a dangerous tackle.
The Cheetahs enjoyed more attacking opportunities as the match progressed, with Rhule scoring on his return from the sin bin and Hennie Daniller rounding off a well-worked move. This good work was undone, however, when their defence lapsed and conceded two quick tries in succession.
As the game entered the final quarter, it was the turn of the Lions to showcase some defensive mettle. They withstood a determined Cheetahs barrage from point blank range, and then eventually secured the turnover that would allow them to clear their lines.
A high hanging kick then went unfielded by the Cheetahs, and Lionel Cronje managed to collect the bouncing ball and extend the hosts’ lead. Cronje sparked the decisive try moments later when he intercepted a pass on his own 22m line, and then found Stokkie Hannekom with a clever offload.