Riaan Smit's 76th minute penalty sealed a close victory for the Free State Cheetahs by 26-23 against the Golden Lions on Friday.
The home side had been completely dominant in the first half, going into the interval leading 23-3 thanks to tries from Johann Sadie and Sarel Pretorius.
But the Lions were resilient after the break. When many would have expected the Cheetahs to go on to wrap up a try bonus point, Johan Ackermann's side hit back with two tries of their own from replacement Ruhan Nel and winger Anthony Volmink.
Fly-half Elton Jantjies kicked three penalties including the equaliser in the 73rd minute, but the Lions brave effort ultimately wasn't enough.
A precise game-plan from the Cheetahs during the opening ten minutes to play up the middle eventually created the necessary space out wide for Sadie to cross over, Pretorius doing enough to lure in the defenders to give the centre space.
Despite the Lions being kept relatively on the backfoot, their scrum was a powerful advantage and continued to cause the Cheetahs with controlling possession in key areas of the field.
Jantjies added first points of the match with a long-range penalty in the 20th minute, but Smit immediately responded as the Lions were penalised for not releasing.
A second Smit penalty came shortly before Jantjies spent ten minutes in the sin-bin for deliberately throwing the ball after being forced into touch.
After Smit's third penalty continued to punish the Lions for their indiscipline, Pretorius pounced for a try from an attacking five metre scrum. With Jantjies sat on the sidelines, Pretorius targeted the defensive channel normally occupied by the Lions fly-half and scampered his way over for a try just before the break.
The expectation was that the Cheetahs would then run away with the match, but instead the Lions soaked up nearly all the possession in the third quarter.
The result was a second penalty for Jantjies before Nel found his way to the try line - taking a fine offload from the in-form Jaco Kriel to run in under the posts and close the gap to 23-13.
Volmink's clever score a few minutes later - when the winger pounced on the loose ball on the Lions goal-line after Rhule was put under pressure - brought the Lions within three and with Jantjies' third penalty in the 73rd minute an astonishing comeback was on the cards.
Instead the Cheetahs worked another opportunity for Smit, who didn't miss. The win sees the hosts move to the top of the Currie Cup Premier Division before the rest of the sides play tomorrow.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Sadie, Pretorius
Cons: Smit 2
Pens: Smit 4
For Golden Lions:
Tries: Nel, Volmink
Cons: Jantjies 2
Pens: Jantjies 3
Yellow Card: Jantjies
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo (capt), 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Rossouw de Klerk, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Freddie Ngoza, 19 Tertius Daniller, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Golden Lions: 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Andries Coetzee, 13 Robert de Bruyn, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie (captain), 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Bees Roux, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 CJ van der Linde.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Hugo Kloppers, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Deon Helberg, 22 Ruhan Nel.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen