The Toyota Cheetahs and Sigma Lions each scored six tries in ping-pong Carling Currie Cup 44-44 (halftime 17-23) draw at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Wednesday evening.
A late penalty from flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse handed the Lions a share of the spoils with the lead changing hands no fewer than nine times during the match which left Cheetahs bottom of the Currie Cup log on 19 points from eight games while the Lions moved up to fifth position, level on points with fourth-placed New Nation Pumas but having played nine matches.
The Cheetahs had stormed into an early 15-point lead thanks to tries from scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and centre David Brits with Pienaar landing a penalty and a conversion. The mercurial veteran landed four covnersions, two penalties along with his try for a personal tally of 19 points.
But a crazy seven-minute period saw the Lions score three tries through No. 8 Ruhan Straulie, son of former Bok Rudolph, man of the match Sibahle Maxwane and hooker Jaco Visagie, with Hendrikse converting Visagie’s try.
The Lions then played the final 10 minutes of the first stanza with 14 men as flanker Sibusiso Sengweni was sin-binned for a dangerously low, no-arms tackle after Pienaar had landed his second penalty to restore the Cheetahs’ lead. The home side then closed off the first half with their third try when fullback Clayton Blommetjies floated a pass out wide to wing Craig Barry, who went over in the corner and with Pienaar unable to convert from a tight angle, the Cheetahs went into the break with a six-point lead.
The second half was like watching a tennis match between Bjorn Bjorg and John McEnroe as the sides scored tries almost at will – a “what you can do, we can do” type half.
Hendrikse had landed the first punch after the break, landing his first penalty to reduce the gap to just three points six minutes after the restart before a turnover from Sengweni on the 22m line, saw the Lions storm down the field with wing Stean Pienaar scoring the Lions’ bonus-point try.
The Cheetahs hit back with a great rolling maul from a lineout short of the Lions line, with replacement hooker Louis van der Westhuizen standing up with the ball as the home side reclaimed their three-point lead after Pienaar converted.
Almost from the kick-off, Maxwane showed his pace with the left winger beating Barry with inches to spare on the touchline before offloading to Burger Odendaal, with the centre trotting in for the visitors. Again the Lions’ defence went to sleep as Brits dashed through the defences, offloaded to Pienaar, who had the forethought to hold up the ball before passing out wide to Malcolm Jaer to dive over in the left-hand corner.
The visitors were not to be outdone as former Cheetahs fullback, Fred Zeilinger chipped through for Maxwane to chase and the speedster collected and sauntered over for his second score of the night. With Hendrikse converting, the Lions held a slender four-point advantage heading into the final 10 minutes of the match.
But the Cheetahs struck back just two minutes later as another maul from the men from Bloemfontein saw replacement forward Andisa Ntsila drive over for the Cheetahs’ sixth try, handing the home side their three-point advantage with Pienaar landing the extra two-points.
But with the Lions pressing hard, dominating the scrums and the tackles, driving the Cheetahs back, the home side held firm, although giving away a multitude of penalties, the last of which Hendrikse booted over to level the scores with just a minute remaining on the stadium clock.
The two sides had scored no less than six tries between them in a crazy 20-minute period which would have left both coaches, Ivan van Rooyen and Hawies Fouries, a little disheartened at the defensive lapses that their sides showed.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Ruan Pienaar, David Brits, Craig Barry, Louis van der Westhuizen, Malcolm Jaer, Andisa Ntsila; Conversions: Pienaar (4); Penalties: Pienaar (2).
Sigma Lions – Tries: Sibahle Maxwane (2), Ruhan Straulie, Jaco Visagie, Stean Pienaar, Burger Odendaal; Conversions: Jordan Hendrikse (4); Penalties: Hendrikse (2).