The MTN Lions scored 26 unanswered points in the second half to stun the Toyota Cheetahs 33-17 in their SA Franchise Challenge match at Ellis Park on Saturday.Buoyed by some stellar performances by Stokkies Hanekom and Lionel Cronje, the Lions came back from 17-7 down to record a great victory in the pre-season game.
After captain JC Janse van Rensburg reminded the rugby public on Friday that his young team had a point to prove, the Lions struggled to find their rhythm in the first half before making the breakthrough and turning the game around midway in the second half to leave the visitors floundering.
Until that moment it had been a tight game with the Cheetahs shading matters as they used their chances better early on.
But then in an inspired moment, Hanekom chipped over the defence bravely and collected to score a great try and put the Lions back into contention.
Two minutes later Cronje grubbered a perfect ball through for Anthony Volminck to score, and put the Lions ahead for the first time in the game, before grabbing a try to stun the Cheetahs into submission.
Hanekom had the final say after Cronje grabbed an intercept and sent the midfielder in for the final touch.
It was a fitting ending for the 5 500 fans that turned up to watch their side, but a massive warning for the Cheetahs, who started off so well through tries by JP Nel and Raymond Rhule.
It is clear that Rhule will be a big player for the Cheetahs this year, but he did his team no favours with a yellow card for a tip tackle in the first half.
The Lions squandered so many turnovers in the first half that they struggled in the opening exchanges. Four lost lineout balls and a dozen turnovers hardly reads positively for the home side.
But when they got it together, they got it together. Using the aerial route to unsettle the Cheetahs, the Lions established their dominance in the setpieces in the second half and ruled the breakdown with the Cheetahs uncharacteristically struggling to keep the ball on attack.
The Lions are now two from two in their exhibition games while the Cheetahs have much work to do.
The way the game ended you would be forgiven wondering which side is the Vodacom Super Rugby franchise and which side is in the wilderness.
MTN LIONS – Tries: Stokkies Hanekom (2), Anthony Volminck, Lionel Cronje, Ruhan Nel. Conversions: Marnitz Boshoff (4).
TOYOTA CHEETAHS – Tries: JP Nel, Raymond Rhule, Hennie Daniller. Conversion: Francois Brummer.