The Cheetahs got their Currie Cup campaign off to a fine start when they claimed a 30-29 win over the Lions in Johannesburg.
The match was a hard-fought and entertaining affair, with both sides giving the ball plenty of air.
The Cheetahs claimed a try-scoring bonus point and the victory moves them to the top of the table, albeit momentarily as Western Province and the Blue Bulls must still play the final match of the weekend.
Marnitz Boshoff gave the Lions an early lead, when he succeeded with a penalty in the third minute, after the Cheetahs forwards were penalised for a ruck infringement.
Two minutes later the Cheetahs were on the scoreboard when Robert Ebersohn gathered a perfectly-weighted chip kick from Johann Sadie and saw off a desperate tackle from Boshoff before scoring in the left-hand corner.
Rian Smit failed with the conversion but the Cheetahs held the upperhand for the next 10 minutes. They were camped inside the home side's half for long periods but their dominance was not reflected on the scoreboard as they failed to add to their lead.
The Lions were back in front, in the 15th minute, when Boshoff succeeded with another penalty after Lappies Labuschagne collapsed a maul illegally.
Three minutes later, Smit redeemed himself, for missing his previous goal-kick, when he added a three-pointer after Warwick Tecklenburg went off his feet at a ruck.
The Cheetahs' dominance continued and Lood de Jager thought he had extended their lead in the 27th minute, when he crashed over the try-line after gathering the ball at a line-out. His effort was disallowed, however, as the television match official ruled that Hercu Liebenverg's throw to the big secod-rower did not travel five metres.
The Cheetahs put that missed opportunity behind them and three minutes later their captain Boom Prinsloo scored their second try from the back of a driving maul, at a line-out on the Lions' 22-metre line.
The Lions struck back with a try from Stokkies Hanekom, in the 33rd minute, after Dylan des Fountain did well to draw in two defenders, in the build-up, before offloading to his midfield partner.
Boshoff added the extras to draw his side level and the hosts regained the lead in the 38th minute when the fly-half added another three-pointer to give his side a 16-13 lead at half-time.
The Cheetahs were back in front after the restart when Sarel Pretorius gathered a loose ball next to the uprights and dotted down. This after Philip van der Walt was stopped just short of the try-line by two defenders.
Smit added the conversion to give the visitors a 20-16 lead but Boshoff narrowed the gap to a point after the Cheetahs were pinned for illegally collapsing a maul in the 51st minute.
Shortly afterwards, Sadie pushed the Cheetahs further ahead, when he rounded off a flowing back-line move, in the left-hand corner and Elgar Watts added the conversion to give his side an eight-point lead.
The Lions refused to go down without a fight and after a sustained period of pressure Willie Britz crashed through a tackle from Raymond Rhule at close quarters to reduce the deficit to three points.
Elton Jantjies failed to land the conversion and Watts made the score 30-24 when he landed another spot-kick after the Lions infringed at a ruck.
The hosts struck back when Ruan Dreyer burrowed his way over the try-line, from close quarters, but once again Jantjies failed to add the extras.
The Lions tried desperately to bag the victory, by launching several attacks but the visitors defended resiliently to keep them at bay.
For Golden Lions:
Tries: Hanekom, Britz, Dreyer
Pens: Boshoff 4
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Ebersohn, Prinsloo, Pretorius, Sadie
Cons: Smit, Watts
Pens: Smit, Watts
Golden Lions: 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Guy Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie (c), 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Lambert Groenewald, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Lionel Cronje/Robert de Bruyn.
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 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo (c), 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 John-Roy Jenkinson, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Oupa Mohoje, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Joubert Engelbrecht, 22 Piet Lindeque.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen