The defending champion Free State Cheetahs managed to stay in the top two on the Currie Cup standing, thanks to a fortuitous 15-10 Absa Currie Cup victory over a spirited Boland Cavaliers outfit in Wellington on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that Boland’s kamikaze commitment on defence frustrated the visitors throughout, and the Cheetahs’ offensive accuracy decreased exponentially as they began to rush the tempo of their attack in the first half.
But the defending champs prevailed thanks to a near perfect display of line-out skills, and a change of tactics in the second half that saw them adopt a more tempered, direct approach with the ball in hand.
The Cheetahs were held to just two tries, from left wing Fabian Juries and hooker Richardt Strauss, while flyhalf Chris Rossouw added a conversion and a penalty.
Boland fullback Justin Peach converted wing Danwell Demas’ try and added a second half penalty.
The home team applied almost all of their limited first-half possession in testing the Cheetahs’ back three under the high ball, and the visitors were forced to scramble in defence of several promising Boland line-breaks.
The strong scrummaging of Boland props Jean Botha and WP Nel unsettled the Cheetahs loose trio, and the home team’s front row further insulted their opponents by claiming two tightheads.
The Cheetahs finally found their mark in the final minute of the first half when fullback Bevan Fortuin broke the line from a line-out deep in Boland territory before being brought to ground inside the 22. The ball was sent blind to Meyer Bosman, and the centre drew two defenders to put a speeding Juries over for the try.
Rossouw failed with his conversion attempt, but the visitors left the field relieved to have finally scored after a frenetic first half.
Their relief was short-lived as Boland claimed the lead immediately after the break when Demas latched onto an unclaimed restart. The ball was recycled through two phases before flyhalf Isma-eel Dollie nudged a perfectly weighted grubber kick through for the right wing who burst onto the ball for the converted try.
Rossouw missed his second kick seven minutes later as a 30-metre penalty kick sailed wide right, and Dollie followed suit at the end of the third quarter when his 38-metre penalty struck the uprights and bounced back into play.
Peach’s accurate boot found the mark with 15 minutes to go when he banged over a 32-metre penalty to stretch the home team’s lead to five points after Cheetahs hooker Richardt Strauss was nabbed for a high tackle.
But Strauss redeemed himself four minutes later when he found lock David de Villiers at a five-metre line-out for the umpteenth time, and the lock popped it back to the hooker who dived over in the corner to level the scores.
Rossouw’s touchline conversion, his first successful kick of the afternoon, gave the visitors a two-point lead.
Boland refused to surrender and continued to use their possession to turn the Cheetahs with tactical kicks, testing the visitors’ cover defence and hoping for a kind bounce to gift them a try.
Unfortunately for Boland, chance favoured the defending champions and when the Cheetahs flyhalf chipped a 15-metre penalty over to stretch his team’s advantage to five points with three minutes remaining, it was clear that the home team’s tireless defence and spirited counter-attacks had been undone.
The win lifts the Cheetahs to 23 log points and second place on the standings – separated from the table-topping Blue Bulls by points-differential. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers earned the loss-margin bonus point, but remain in last place with just eight log points.
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Juries, Strauss
Boland Cavaliers: 15 Justin Peach, 14 Danwell Demas, 13 Cornell Hendricks, 12 Lionel Cornelius, 11 Alvin Hugo, 10 Isma-eel Dollie, 9 Neil Papier, 8 Dries van Schalkwyk (captain), 7 Frankie Horne, 6 Zolani Mofu, 5 Bradley Mockford, 4 Frikkie Spies, 3 WP Nel, 2 Clemen Lewis, 1 Jean Botha.
Replacements: 16 Pieter Wium, 17 Janro van Niekerk, 18 Cecil Kemp, 19 Whalied Heyns, 20 Marnus Hugo, 21 Kobus Meintjes, 22 Jacquin Jansen.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Fabian Juries, 10 Chris Rossouw, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk van der Merwe, 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Barend Pieterse (captain), 4 David de Villiers, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Jaco du Toit, 17 Philip Lemmer, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Neil Powell, 21 JW Jonker, 22 Wilton Pietersen.