Hereâ00s what the Sunday and Monday papers thought of the 26-24 win in Bloemfonteinâ0¦
Rob Kitson in the Guardian
It maintained the perverse nature of the first three matches â00 weekend bad, midweek good â00 and, at this rate, the Test XV will mostly pick itself. Of Saturday's starting line-up the only definites are the captain, Paul O'Connell, and Lee Byrne, with Stephen Ferris and the two props, Andrew Sheridan and Euan Murray, still knocking on the door.
Nine players were making Lions debuts but that could not entirely explain the frequent lack of urgency or the problems the Cheetahs caused at the breakdown. Joe Worsley is a world-class defender but he was overshadowed at openside by Heinrich Brussow, who was deemed surplus to Springbok requirements this month.
There was precious little point in blaming the referee, Wayne Barnes, for all the various problems: if the Lions start belly-aching about the decisions of an English match official in South Africa they really are scrabbling around for excuses.
Peter Bills in the Independent
The support work wasnâ00t good enough, the off-loading in the tackle was largely absent and there was a lack of cohesion about the tourists. There was far too much going to ground without attempting to keep the ball alive, although in fairness the work off the ball was nowhere near the quality shown last Wednesday in Johannesburg.
For the Lions to lead 20-0 after the opening 20 minutes and then â00loseâ00 the next 30 minutes 17-6, demands questions regarding their lack of control, lack of concentration and focus and their inability to rise above much of the mayhem and stamp their class and authority on the game.
You have to credit the Cheetahs for a gutsy, committed, spirited effort which posed some serious questions for what increasingly began to look like the Lions midweek side. The home team sought space and when they found it, had the gas to cause trouble. But in truth, a litany of errors undermined the Lionsâ00 effort.
The Springboks wonâ00t be quaking with fear, thatâ00s for sure.
David Hands in The Times
If a dropped-goal attempt from nearly 50 metres by Louis Strydom had not flown narrowly wide, the team who finished bottom of the Super 14 would have claimed victory.
There is little point querying the decisions of Wayne Barnes, the English referee. The Lions must look deep within and acknowledge that their admirable desire to be fair to all led to the poorly balanced XV who started in Bloemfontein.
Neither back row nor midfield boasted the proper proportions. They were taught a lesson by the home back row - in which Heinrich BrÃ¼ssow should have received the man-of-the-match award given to Stephen Ferris, of Ulster - and only a steady performance by the half backs and the forwards at the set-pieces kept the Lions afloat.
Mike Greenaway in South Africaâ00s Sunday Tribune
Now this is what the 2009 British & Irish tour needed - a cracking game of rugby to emphatically end the low-key start to their 10-match marathon.
After the B-Section battle of Bafokeng and the rout of the Ellis Park rabble, the Lions were given the fright of their lives by the Cheetahs and the Free Staters can proudly pass the South African baton on to the Sharks for Wednesday's Kings Park clash.
And few would have been more pleased at the quality of the game than the Lions' coaching staff, who saw their charges tested in all aspects of the game, and in all aspects they shaded the opposition, apart from the line-outs where they had a clear superiority.
The front rows went at each other hammer and tongs for the whole 80 minutes; the Lions' defence was asked questions by the Cheetahs' willingness to use the breadth of the field on attack and there was a right old battle at the breakdowns, where Heinrich Brussow made a nuisance of himself, but probably the most effective flank on the pitch was the excellent Ulsterman Stephen Ferris, who was a deserved man of the match.
John Oâ00Sullivan in the Irish Times
The South African franchise were not the better side on the day, but it would have been hard to begrudge them their victory. Conceding 20 points in as many minutes without reply at the start, they could have disappeared with a whimper. Instead, they came within touching distance of only a second victory over the Lions.
Some of the frailties exposed in the opening match of the tour were once again evident as a Lions team with nine players making their first start on this tour struggled for cohesion and accuracy. The biggest concern for coach Ian McGeechan will be the breakdown, an area in which the Lions turned over too much possession.
The absence of a recognised openside cost the Lions dearly, a fact acknowledged by McGeechan. Joe Worsley deputised for the injured Martyn Williams, and while few would quibble with the integrity of his effort in taking up ball and making his usual quota of tackles, he can not fulfil the specific role of a number seven.
The tourists were also guilty of cluttering the backline with too many forwards, which denied their team-mates the opportunity to create and exploit space. The pack trundled forward through several phases at times, only for a player to eventually run out of support and have the ball pilfered at a ruck.
Saturday was an opportunity for players to advance their Tests cases but several in the pack managed the reverse.
The Lionsâ00 backline had an afternoon of gnawing irritation as they tried to operate in overpopulated corridors; they would have thrived on quick ball with more space. Instead they could muster only cameos. Keith Earls took his try in typically cavalier fashion and enjoyed a decent outing, but this wasnâ00t a game in which Luke Fitzgerald or Leigh Halfpenny could thrive.
Peter Jackson in the Daily Mail
The home team went within a Cheetah's whisker of snatching a last-minute win which would have been due reward for the way they outplayed the Lions at the breakdown, where Heinrich Brussow ran the show.
The fact that he was released from the Springbok squad last week, regarded by selectors as not good enough, gives the Lions some idea of what awaits them when the real action starts on Saturday week.
Rather than praise his opposite number, Stephen Ferris chose to lambast Wayne Barnes, accusing the English referee of allowing Brussow to 'get away with murder' in the course of refereeing the contact area 'very badly'.
The Ulsterman's view may have been clouded somewhat by his early sinbinning which allowed the Cheetahs to begin their improbable recovery with two converted tries during his absence.
Shane Williams, missing another opportunity to close the gap on Ugo Monye for a Test place, threw the pass which the Cheetahs turned into an 80-yard interception try which gave them seven minutes to find the winning drop goal. Lee Byrne's first knock-on of the trip allowed Louis Strydom to take steady aim from halfway.
At that moment, with 70 seconds left, the Lions thought they were done for. So, too, did Strydom, his clenched fists ready in celebration only for the ball to drift away at the last moment.
While the Cheetahs missed four shots out of eight, James Hook landed six out of six, raising the Lions cumulative tally for the to 24 out of 25. Goalkicking is not a problem, which is just as well because there are enough worries elsewhere.
Stephen Jones in the Sunday Times
This was as desperately disappointing as the thumping midweek win was elevating, and the Lions could easily have lost.
There was real hope in the eyes of Louis Strydom of the Cheetahs as he dropped for goal to win the match at the end, and it was only in the last few yards of the flight of the ball that he turned away and cursed his rotten luck.
Shall we get the mitigating circumstances out of the way first? The Cheetahs were wonderfully committed and harsh, they had a hard-nosed footballing nous and they defended magnificently. And the Lions were hamstrung by their own wish that anyone who had not started on tour as yet could start yesterday. So combinations were unfamiliar, and some struggled horribly.
Alex Spink in the Sunday Mirror
Paul O'Connell's dozy Lions came within a whisker of blowing their unbeaten record after nodding off yesterday.
O'Connell was furious with his team after they opened up a 20-point lead - yet allowed their lowly opponents to almost steal victory.
Only a narrowly-missed drop goal attempt by replacement Louis Strydom, two minutes into stoppage time, denied the Cheetahs a famous victory.
On a forgettable afternoon at Free State Stadium none of the Lions, aside from fly-half James Hook, who kicked 16 points, and props Andrew Sheridan and Euan Murray, enhanced their reputations.