It rained tries and yellow cards at Ellis Park as the Lions secured a 60-25 victory over the Cheetahs in a thrilling last round Super Rugby match on Saturday.
Outscoring the visiting side eight tries to three, the pride of Johannesburg watched as no less than three Cheetahs players were sin-binned during the contest. The hosts also saw yellow but at that stage the result was already certain.
The star of the night was winger Lionel Mapoe who celebrated his 50th Super Rugby match with a hat-trick yet the hard work of flanker Jaco Kriel was adjudged to have been worthy of the man of the match prize.
The villain, Free State fans may argue, was the match official who could have been less trigger happy with the yellow cards he dished-out on the night.
As confusing as some of the decisions Marius van der Westhuizen made on the night were - the official not once hesitated to punish the Free State squad for infringements at the breakdown - the never-say-die attitude of both sides ensured that the derby turned out to be the most entertaining match of the weekend.
Even at their worst, the Cheetahs kept on fighting.
For the Lions the victory represented so much more than the final log standings which saw them finish ahead of last year's semi-finalists in the South African conference.
The seventh win ensured that they recorded their best Super Rugby season to date and it also turned out to be the perfect send-off for long serving stalwart Franco van der Merwe who is heading overseas.
On the other side of the coin a host of Cheetahs players have decided to jump ship which could have contributed to their rather sluggish defensive effort.
Having missed out on the action last year, the Lions completed their return without a title sponsor and were clearly out to prove that they are indeed worthy of financial support.
In what was always going to be a spectacle for rugby loving fans, the both sides decided to give the ball air from the get-go but it was they Cheetahs who would add the first points when the Lions failed to roll away from a ruck just outside their 22.
The breakdown was formed when the imposing figure of Lood de Jager went on the first of many thundering runs.
The Lions, however, equalised through Elton Jantjies just minutes later.
De Jager was outstanding throughout, but the constant lack of personnel on the park gave the running Lions so many opportunities to play to their strengths.
Phillip van der Walt, Coenie Oosthuizen and Johan Goosen spent time in the bin at some stage during the match.
For the Lions Jantjies was sent-off in the second half.
The Cheetahs scored the first try of the evening when Springbok Willie le Roux finished after Raymond Rhule had turned-on the pace out wide.
At that stage the Lions were still content with keeping the score board ticking through the boot of Jantjies who would play a central role in their first five-pointer.
The pivot attacked the line with intent throughout the contest and once his forwards gave him quality ball through a rolling maul, he offloaded to Stokkies Hanekom who flicked the ball on to Mapoe who raced in for his first.
That opened up the proverbial floodgates and also marked the first time in the match that the Lions enjoyed the lead. The Cheetahs would level matters later, but would not catch up once their opponents went more than seven clear.
Ross Cronje also dotted down in the first half, while Mapoe added his second just before the break.
Leading 27-13 at the break the Lions were treated to a fine fight back effort at the start of the second half Springbok Cornal Hendricks scored a vital five pointer, although the Lions were quick to bounc back through hooker Robbie Coetzee.
Anthony Volmink would later set-up skipper Warren Whiteley while one of the most exhilarating tries were scored by Andries Coetzee who intercepted before running it in from 80 metres out. The extra layer of icing was added by Mapoe.
Tries: Mapoe 3, Cronje, R.Coetzee, Whiteley, A.Coetzee, Fourie
Cons: Jantjies 7
Pens: Jantjies 2
Yellow Cards: Jantjies
Tries: le Roux, Hendricks 2
Cons: Goosen 2
Pens: Goosen 2
Yellow Cards: van der Walt, Co Oosthuizen, Goosen
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen