Replacement lock Flip van der Merwe’s last-minute try sealed a hard-fought 22-3 (halftime 12-3) victory for the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs over the inspired Wildeklawer Griquas in their Absa Currie Cup match in Bloemfontein on Friday.
A tough-as-nails, often brutal encounter could have descended into chaos if left unsupervised by referee JC Fortuin, who handed out four yellow cards, three of them to Griquas.
Superrugby reports that lock Cilliers Coetzer and wing Gavin Passens were both sent off in the first half, and Cheetahs prop Cobus Calldo and Griquas lock Wayne van Heerden were sin-binned in short succession in the second half.
Griquas dominated the lineouts and the breakdowns which meant the Cheetahs struggled for any momentum and the match was hardly a pleasing spectacle for the paying public.
The Cheetahs’ opening try came in the 15th minute as flank Hendro Scholtz charged down the touchline, but thereafter, every time they got into attacking areas, they either conceded a penalty or dropped the ball.
Wing Fabian Juries eventually chipped and chased for the home side’s second try in the 30th minute, but that was it for the Free Staters before half time.
And it certainly wasn’t easy for the Cheetahs in the second half either as Griquas continued to make life hell for them at the breakdowns, where Griquas openside Rohan Kitshoff clearly liked operating in the absence of injured Cheetahs star Heinrich Brussouw, and in the lineouts.
The Free Staters had been toeing all their penalties into touch but, eventually, after over an hour, flyhalf Chris Rossouw aimed a penalty at goal and kicked it over to make the score 15-3.
Free State coach Naka Drotske brought on a bunch of fresh legs, but Griquas continued to defend in marauding gangs, drawing an unerring bead on any ball-carrier in a white jersey.
The Cheetahs eventually scored again with the final move of the match as Van der Merwe beat the defence from a tap-penalty.
The home side were left in no doubt they had been in a game. The terrific Griquas effort was inspired by Van Heerden’s superb work in the lineouts, while Kitshoff was immense at the breakdown and wing MJ Mentz excelled in defence.
Juries was threatening in attack for the Cheetahs, while Calldo was impressive in the scrums and in general play.
Vodacom Free State Cheetahs
Tries: Hendro Scholtz, Fabian Juries, Flip van der Merwe.
Conversions: Chris Rossouw, Tewis de Bruyn.
Penalty: Conrad Barnard.