The Free State Cheetahs bounced back into play-off contention when they smashed a sloppy Sharks team 31-9 in their Currie Cup Round Five match in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The four-tries-to-nil win saw the Cheetahs moved from sixth to third on the standings, while the error-riddled performance resulted in the Sharks dropping from third to fourth.
This victory, at home, follows two successive defeats on the road by the defending Currie Cup champions, but was by far their most accomplished showing of the season.
It was a victory build on a fast start and dominance at the breakdown, with the Sharks paying the price for not committing the required numbers to secure ball.
Also, the Cheetahs – with David de Villiers the star – made the line-outs a nightmare for the Sharks, stealing ball almost at will.
Starved of quality possession the visitors were reduced to a defensive unit for most of the game and it counted in the end.
Trailing just 3-10 at the break, three second half tries – including a two-try blitz in as many minutes – sunk the visitors.
The Cheetahs were first to score. From a five-metre scrum the Cheetahs worked the ball to the left in the 11th minute for centre Rob Ebersohn to bash it up. The ball was recycled to lock Barend Pieterse, who was held inches short of the line.
But from the recycle scrumhalf Neil Powell threw a brilliant long pass to the right. It took out three defenders and gave wing Eddie Fredericks an easy run-in over the line.
Seven minutes later flyhalf Chris Rossouw landed a 30-metre penalty after the Sharks infringed at the breakdown under pressure from the dynamic Heinrich Brussow.
Despite their dominance the Cheetahs couldn’t turn it into points and the Sharks slowly began to believe in themselves. They strung phases together and eventually secured a kickable penalty, which flyhalf Frederic Michalak duly slotted with eight minutes to the break.
The home team opened the scoring in the second half in much the same way as they’d been successful in the first from a five-metre scrum.
From the base of the scrum eighthman Schalk van der Merwe broke to the openside before offloading a sweetly-timed pass to fullback Bevin Fortuin, who ran a superb angle that was enough to carry him over the line despite the attention of several Shark defenders.
The Sharks clawed their way back into the contest with two penalties from replacement flyhalf Monty Dumond in the 63rd and 67th minutes – making it 17-9.
But hopes of an unlikely win was dashed in the space of two minutes as the Cheetahs buried the visitors with two further tries.
In the 69th minute the Cheetahs opened the Sharks defence thanks to a brilliant run by flank Kabamba Floors, who beat Sharks centre Waylon Murray for pace down the right wing. He then turned the ball inside where SA Sevens star Fabian Juries was on hand to canter under the crossbar unopposed.
From the kick-off Tewis de Bruyn scythed through poor Sharks defence and drew fullback Stefan Terblanche as he laid a perfect pass for Van der Merwe to score an easy try.
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Fredericks, Fortuin, Juries, Van der Merwe
Cons: Rossouw 4
For the Sharks:
Pens: Michalak, Dumond 2
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Chris Rossouw, 9 Neil Powell, 8 Schalk van der Merwe, 7 Hendro Scholtz (captain), 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 David de Villiers, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Jaco du Toit, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Phillip Lemmer, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Hendrik Meyer, 22 Fabian Juries.
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Chris Jordaan, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Henno Mentz, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Scott Mathie, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Nikolai Blignaut, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (captain), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Skipper Badenhorst, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Robbie Harris, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Skholiwe Ndlovu, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Riaan Swanepoel, 22 Monty Dumond.
Referee: Mark Lawrence
Touch judges: Theuns Jonker, Peet Badenhorst
TMO: Michael Cupido