A superb late fightback earned the Golden Lions a 43-33 victory over the Free State Cheetahs in their Currie Cup semi-final in Johannesburg on Saturday.
In a game in which the lead changed hands on several occasions, the Lions had to dig deep and only secured victory in the game's closing stages when Marnitz Boshoff slotted two penalties.
The result means that Johan Ackermann's charges will face Western Province in next weekend's final in Johannesburg.
In a thrilling match, played at a hectic pace, the Cheetahs' ability to match the Lions' free-flowing and fast-paced game kept them in the game until two late yellow cards – to Boom Prinsloo and Maks van Dyk – took the wind out of their sails.
The home side had to dig deep to secure victory and they trailed 16-13 at half-time, after the Cheetahs caught them off guard with a superb display in the opening half.
The Cheetahs dominated for large periods and outscored their hosts five tries to four but poor goalkicking led to their undoing in the end.
The Bloemfontein-based side showed their intentions from the kick-off and opened the scoring as early as the fourth minute when Francois Venter beat a couple of defenders inside the Lions' 22 before crossing for the opening try.
The visitors kept up the pressure during the opening quarter but failed to extend their lead and the Lions eventually replied with a try by their captain Jaco Kriel from a line-out drive inside the Cheetahs' 22.
Marnitz Boshoff added the extras but Neil Marais gave the visitors' an 11-7 lead with two successive penalties inside the opening quarter.
Boshoff kept his team within touching distance with a three-pointer of his own from the kicking tee but the Cheetahs extended their lead when Prinsloo dived over for their second try from a lineout drive after half an hour.
Boshoff added another penalty, shortly before the break, and the Lions went into the sheds knowing they had to pull out all the stops if they wanted to retain their unbeaten record in the competition and reach the final.
They struck when Lourens Erasmus got over for a try shortly after the restart but the Cheetahs weren't going to surrender without a fight.
The men from Bloemfontein replied with a Gerhard Olivier try in the 51st minute, after Sergeal Petersen did well in the build-up, and when Marais crossed for their fourth try five minutes later, the Lions had their backs to the wall with the Cheetahs leading 28-20.
Boshoff added another penalty before Prinsloo was sent to the sin-bin for deliberately slowing the ball down at the breakdown and shortly afterwards the scores were level when the hosts were awarded a penalty try after the Cheetahs were punished for illegal scrummaging.
Boshoff gave his side the lead after slotting the conversion, but the Cheetahs struck back with a Sias Ebersohn try which meant the visitors led 33-30 with just over 10 minutes left in the match.
Kriel then showed his class as he shrugged off three defenders before crossing for his second try and when Van Dyk was yellow carded for illegal scrummaging the visitors' challenge ran out of steam.
Boshoff's two penalties secured them the Lions the result and the chance to finish the season off in style in next week's final.
For Golden Lions:
Tries: Kriel 2, Erasmus, Penalty Try
Cons: Boshoff 4
Pens: Boshoff 5
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Venter, Prinsloo, Olivier, Marais, Ebersohn
Pens: Marais 2
Yellow Cards: Prinsloo, Van Dyk
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Steph de Witt, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcom Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Fabian Booysen,19 Kwagga Smith, 20 Jaco van der Walt, 21 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 22 Sampie Mastriet.
Free StateCheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Boom Prinsloo, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 BG Uys.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Maks van Dyk, 18 Reniel Hugo, 19 Gerhard Olivier, 20 Ruan van Rensburg, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 AJ Coertzen
Referee: Jaco van Heerden