The Vodacom Free State Cheetahs kicked off their Absa Currie Cup title defence with a hard-fought 20-16 (halftime 14-3) away win over Wildeklawer Griquas at Absa Park in Kimberley on Friday.
Superrugby reports that the match was played in front of a modest weekday afternoon crowd, who would have come hoping to see running rugby under sunny skies but instead parted with good money to watch a typical early-season skirmish between two ring-rusty sides.
The game came alive only in the dying minutes when a try by flanker Stephan Gerber, converted by flyhalf Conrad Barnard, gave Griquas a sniff of what would have been an undeserved victory.
That’s not to say the Cheetahs were much better, but had coach Naka Drotské been told before the opening whistle that he could leave Kimberley with four log points in the bag, he would have quite happily driven back down the N8 to Bloemfontein without a ball being kicked in anger.
The visitors opened their account in the 11th minute when outside centre JW Jonker, one of the few Cheetahs players to impress during the recent Vodacom Super 14, scuttled through a gap to score the first points of the 2008 Currie Cup.
Flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, the former Affies schoolboy who kicked 122 points for the Blue Bulls last year before moving to Bloemfontein, added the conversion to give the Cheetahs a 7-0 lead.
With a quarter of an hour gone, Griquas cut the deficit to four points when veteran outside half Barnard, already in his 10th season of first-class rugby, kicked the first of his three penalties.
The home side coughed up some early try-scoring opportunities but just when they seemed to be getting on top of their game, the Cheetahs struck the deciding blow with a soft try by No 8 Schalk van der Merwe.
The Springbok Sevens player, in his first game for his new province, latched onto a loose turnover ball and galloped over without so much as a hand being laid upon him.
Potgieter once again made no mistake with the conversion.
The second half saw Barnard and replacement Cheetahs flyhalf Chris Rossouw, the former Bok midweek No 10, trade penalties between the 49th and 67th minutes to make it 20-9 to the visitors, who, it must be said, spent most of the afternoon stuck in third gear.
Gerber’s late try finally gave the home crowd something to get excited about but one could sense that the Currie Cup champions, as champions do, had just enough in reserve to survive any last-minute rearguard actions – and so it proved yet again.
Wildeklawer Griquas 16 – Try: Stephan Gerber. Conversion: Conrad Barnard. Penalties: Barnard (3).
Vodacom Free State Cheetahs 20 – Tries: JW Jonker, Schalk van der Merwe. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2). Penalties: Chris Rossouw (2).Tweet