It didn’t take long for the first upset of this year’s Currie Cup, with Griquas claiming a deserved 28-18 bonus-point win over the Free State Cheetahs in the Central Unions derby in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The game was an open and free-running affair, with both teams giving the ball a lot of air. In the end, it was the Griquas’ ability to capitalise on their chances that earned them a close-fought victory.
The first half was as frustrating as it was entertaining, where despite the players’ adventurous intentions, opportunities were rarely converted into points. Both sides showed some great skills, but too often the attacks were spoiled by basic errors.
Griquas struck first after earning a free-kick from a Cheetahs scrum. A quick tap from livewire scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius was fed to veteran eighthman Heinrich Stride, who threw a good dummy and showed great strength to power over for the opening score. Naas Olivier converted the 14th minute try to earn Griquas an early 7-0 lead.
The Cheetahs controlled a lot of the early possession, but a combination of poor execution and Griquas’ commitment at the breakdown continually disrupted the homes side’s attack. Free State had the upper hand at scrum time and their pack was stronger in general, but the Griquas forwards scrapped for everything on the floor and often pushed the boundaries of legality to keep the Cheetahs at bay.
The pressure eventually told, with two penalties from the boot of flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter reducing the Griquas lead to just one point going into the break.
The 7-6 scoreline didn’t reflect the pace and excitement of the first half, which was punctuated with enterprising, fast-paced play from both sides.
The Cheetahs came out of the blocks stronger in the second stanza and quickly put Griquas under pressure. Griquas’ ill-discipline should have cost them six points early in the second half, but they were let off by the errant boot of Potgieter, who missed two very makeable chances. Naka Drotske responded by bringing on Louis Strydom for Potgieter, as well as replacing scrumhalf Gerrie Odendaal with Tertius Carse.
But neither halfback pairing could match their opposite numbers, with Pretorius and Olivier controlling the Griquas attack with aplomb. Pretorius was particularly impressive, despite being sin-binned in the 43rd minute for taking a man out under a high ball.
The Cheetahs did manage to get in front through a great try from Sevens Bok Lionel Mapoe. Flank Johan Wessels won a turnover on the floor and the ball was moved to Mapoe, who streaked away from the defence to score. Mapoe looks like a lethal finisher and has some serious pace.
The Cheetahs began to play a more direct, forward-orientated game and looked threatening. Burly prop WP Nel bundled his way over after a period of continued phase play from the Cheetahs. Strydom converted the 57th minute try to give the Cheetahs an 18-7 lead. But from then on, it was all Griquas.
Pretorius returned from his stint in the sin-bin with renewed vigour, and produced a magical individual effort to strike back immediately from Nel’s try. The skilful No.9 put in a brilliant, sidestepping run to beat several defenders on the way to the line. Pretorius was influential all evening and continued with the form from his fine outing for the Royal XV in the first Lions tour match.
The Cheetahs didn’t help their cause with some poor defence and sloppy play. Olivier charged down an attempted clearance from Strydom. The ball was fed into the midfield and the impressive Barry Geel ran a great line to score under the poles. The centre’s 65th minute try put the visitors back in front and an upset looked on the cards.
The Cheetahs pushed hard and stretched the Griquas defence, but Griquas captain Jonathan Mokuena secured a vital turnover to spoil Free State’s final significant foray into opposition territory.
The victory was sealed by left wing Bjorn Basson, who rounded off a slick handling movement to dive over in the corner. Olivier continued with his faultless kicking display to end the game 28-18 in favour of the men from the Northern Cape.
The victory will be especially sweet for the Griquas players who played for the Cheetahs in the Super 14. For Free State, Drotske would have got more questions than answers from his team’s opening Currie Cup game, both in terms of attack and defence.
Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Mapoe, Nel
Pens: Potgieter 2
Tries: Stride, Pretorius, Geel, Basson
Cons: Olivier 4
Yellow cards: Sarel Pretorius (Griquas, 43 – foul play, taking the man out without the ball)
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet