Each side scored six tries apiece in a see-saw affair where both sides would have bemoaned their defensive displays, but when it came to giving the ball some air, the Cheetahs and Lions went about their business like a game of sevens.
Why the Sigma Lions opted for a penalty goal late in the game, when they were in a strong attacking position and their pack in control, we’ll never know, and it may end up costly as both sides remain at the wrong end of the standings.
It was a breathless first half and the Toyota Cheetahs were out of the blocks in almost no time as they raced into a 15-0 lead in only 13 minutes.
Ruan Pienaar scored their first 10 points with a penalty goal and a converted try – which started deep in their own half – before David Brits showed some serious aerial acrobatics as he went over in the corner for the Free Staters’ second try.
At that stage the Lions looked a bit shell-shocked, but they quickly found their groove and actually took the lead after three tries in six minutes.
First Ruhan Straeuli went over from a good chase after a box kick, three minutes later Rabz Maxwane showed some serious pace to score in the corner, and then Jaco Visagie crashed over after a strong maul. Jordan Hendrikse missed two conversions but the one he hit put the visitors in the lead by 17-15.
The hosts found their groove late in the half and with Lions flanker Sibusiso Sangweni in the sin-bin, a second Pienaar penalty goal and a well-worked try by Craig Barry saw the Cheetahs take a 23-17 lead at the break.
The tit for tat continued in the third quarter, with Hendrikse closing the gap with an early second half penalty goal.
Stean Pienaar then scored a superb try to put the Sigma Lions in the lead (27-23), which started with an intercept deep inside their territory, before a maul try by Louis van der Westhuizen saw the Toyota Cheetahs go back in front.
Then Burger Odendaal’s five-pointer put the visitors overtake their hosts again, before Malcolm Jaer rounded off to put the Cheetahs in the lead by 37-34 on the hour mark.
But the Lions were not done yet. Maxwane got his second after a great grubber into open space and the speedster’s chase was perfect. Hendrikse’s conversion meant the visitors led by 41-37, but minutes later Andisa Ntsila put the hosts in front again with another maul try, with 10 minutes left on the clock.
It was a bit of a surprise though when the team from Jozi – growing in stature with their pack taking control – opted for a penalty goal, duly nailed by Hendrikse, to tie the scores at 44-44 with two minutes left.
That is how it stayed as both teams left the Toyota Stadium with three log points each, and a mountain of work to do to make it to the playoffs.
Toyota Cheetahs 44 (23) – Tries: Ruan Pienaar, David Brits, Craig Barry, Louis van der Westhuizen, Malcolm Jaer, Andisa Ntsila. Conversions: Pienaar (4). Penalty goals: Pienaar (2).
Sigma Lions 44 (17) – Tries: Ruhan Straeuli, Rabz Maxwane (2), Jaco Visagie, Stean Pienaar, Burger Odendaal. Conversions: Jaden Hendrikse (4). Penalty goals: Hendrikse (2).