The British and Irish Lions flew to Durban last night - relieved their 100% South Africa tour record remains intact.
The tourists were given a major fright by Super 14 strugglers the Cheetahs, before escaping from Vodacom Park with a 26-24 success.
First-half tries by Stephen Ferris and Keith Earls helped establish a 20-0 lead, yet the Cheetahs hit back with touchdowns from Danwel Demas, Wian du Preez and Corne Uys.
The first two scores came while Ferris was in the sin-bin, with Uys’ 80-metre interception effort setting up a thrilling finish.
Substitute Louis Strydom sent a late drop-goal attempt agonisingly wide before the Lions could celebrate their escape. They now tackle the Sharks in Durban on Wednesday night.
“We got ourselves into a good position and didn’t develop it as we could have done,” admitted Lions head coach Ian McGeechan.
“The breakdowns became a bit of a lottery and took a lot of momentum out of the game.
“We knew the games were going to get increasingly tougher, and I think it was a good challenge.
“You can never under-estimate how important a win is to the squad.
“The start was very good, but it became stop-start after that, which disappointed us. I don’t think the ball in play time was very high.”
McGeechan praised the contribution of Wales fly-half James Hook, whose 16 points ultimately made the difference between victory and defeat.
He added: “In all three games our goalkickers have been significant.
“I thought the half-backs played well and gave us a chance to play in the right areas.”
Lions skipper Paul O’Connell was disappointed after his team took their collective foot off the pedal - with the breakdown again a problem area for the tourists.
“Maybe we stopped putting as many numbers at the breakdown - you need numbers there, to be low and aggressive, and we didn’t do that,” he said.
“Turning the ball over killed us. They can take momentum out of your team and give the other team belief.
“We started off very well. After Wednesday’s game (when the Lions beat the Golden Lions 74-10, people perhaps thought it was going to be more of the same, but the Cheetahs went up a gear.
“I am disappointed for the guys. We’ve had a great buzz, and the guys were very enthusiastic, but for nine of the guys it was their first game in a while, so to get away with the win was important.
“Decisions will go against you in a rugby game. We needed to be a bit more clever than we were when Stephen was in the bin.”