Both sides entered the clash - sponsored by DirectAxis Financial Services – with victories in their first two matches, and the home side seemed to be on course for their third win at halftime as they built up an encouraging 19-7 lead. But the Xerox Golden Lions fought back strongly, with a penalty goal in the second-last minute earning them the win.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs made a strong statement in the first half, scoring three tries to one by the Xerox Golden Lions.
The opening exchanges were tight as the teams tested one another on attack and defence, but a yellow card for Xerox Golden Lions lock Ruben Schoeman in the 11th minute handed the home side a golden opportunity to earn the first points of the match, and they did just that with hooker Joseph Dweba dotting down from a powerful rolling maul.
They backed this up with a try by lock Walt Steenkamp in the 16th minute from an intercept as the visitors were trying to clear the ball from a ruck, and this was followed up by their third try by flanker Marnus van der Merwe, who gathered a sharp pass from a lineout move.
This handed the Toyota Free State Cheetahs a 19-0 lead with minutes left to play in the first half.
The Xerox Golden Lions, however, showed their fighting spirit with winger Madosh Tambwe crossing the tryline after the halftime whistle had sounded thanks to a good run at depth, and the successful conversion saw them enter the break 19-7 down.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs were dealt a big blow a minute into the first half as fullback Darren Adonis received a yellow card for infringing at a ruck, and Xerox Golden Lions speedster Tyrone Green capitalised on this after the team won a crucial turnover metres from the hosts’ tryline, which allowed them to reduce their deficit to 19-14.
They added their third try minutes later compliments of former Junior Springbok centre Wandisile Simelane, who ran a great support line after a break out wide, and the conversion by flyhalf Shaun Reynolds pushed them into lead for the first time in the game.
The Gauteng outfit lost replacement lock Reinhard Nothnagel to a yellow card early in the fourth quarter, and the Toyota Free State Cheetahs threatened on attack, but a combination of mistakes at crucial times, turnovers and the decision not to opt for the goal posts after winning kickable penalty goals denied them from making it count.
The Free Staters’ replacement flyhalf, Louis Fouche, nudged the home side into a 22-21 lead with seven minutes to play, but after an intense scramble by both sides in the following exchanges, the Xerox Golden Lions were awarded a penalty goal in front of the posts, which Reynolds slotted over for the 24-22 victory.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 22 (19) – Tries: Joseph Dweba, Walt Steenkamp, Marnus van der Merwe. Conversions: Tian Schoeman, Benhard Janse van Rensburg. Penalty Goals: Louis Fouche.
Xerox Golden Lions 24 (7) – Tries: Madosh Tambwe, Tyrone Green, Wandisile Simelane. Conversions: Shaun Reynolds (3). Penalty Goal: Shaun Reynolds.