Well, that was a bit of a close call! After the Lions laid down a marker mid week against the Golden Lions, the Cheetahs tore into the British & Irish Lions and gave them an almighty scare with a missed drop goal the difference between a win for the Lions and a massive upset courtesy of the unfancied South African side.
The Lions started the battle well, scoring twice early on through Stephen Ferris and youngster Keith Earls to take a 20-0 lead inside the opening quarter of the game. However, the Lions then failed to take the game away from the Cheetahs and following a somewhat harsh sin binning of Ferris, the home side went on to score two tries of their own to bring themselves right back into the game.
The teams went in at half time with the Lions leading 14-23, but the Cheetahs had taken the initiative and came out in the second half and really took the battle to the Lions on the floor at the breakdown and with a commitment that had been severely lacking in their Super 14 campaign this season.
With several Lions quite clearing playing for themselves rather than for the team, it was quite easy for the Cheetahs to make the most of the situation and get themselves back to within 2 points before trying to steal the game with a long range drop goal attempt by Louis Strydom, which very luckily for the Lions sailed just past the wrong side of the upright.
The Lions just about closed the game out, but it certainly looked like the Cheetahs were going to cause an upset and had it not been for a few missed kicks by Cheetahs players, and the two early tries conceded, they might have won the match at a canter. Not many Lions stood up to be counted this afternoon with only Ferris, Hook, Ellis and Byrne looking like they could hold their own under the pressure of the Lions jersey.
We are now three games down, seven to go in the tour and as much as players are playing themselves into contention, it is also becoming apparent those that are playing themselves out of contention for a test place. Shane Williams and Joe Worsley in particular made themselves look like worse players than they actually are.
Williams looked out of form before the tour and he just looks like he is trying too hard and making simple errors, he needs to go back to basics and work on what has made him great in the past in order to discover some form. Based on his performance today he will be lucky to make the bench against South Africa.
Unfortunately for Worsley, his efforts were noble but he was dominated by the man who came into the Cheetahs side as a replacement for the guy who will be his opposite if he plays in the test matches. If he can’t out play Smits replacement in his club side then what chance of him containing the imposing Springbok himself?
We’ve singled out two players that had poor games, but the rest of the side didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory and it will take a big kick up the backside from Geech and the management to turn this bunch around.
Next up are the Natal Sharks, widely acknowledged as the second best of the Super 14 franchises in South Africa. With the Lions not facing the Bulls on this tour, the Sharks will likely represent the stiffest opposition outside of the national side that they will face, so the Lions will really need to up their game if they want to keep their tour on course leading up to the first test at the same venue in Durban.