The Cheetahs went four points clear at the top of the Currie Cup standings with a 38-30 victory over the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
This result means the Cheetahs remain unbeaten in the competition in what was a very impressive performance away win for the men from Bloemfontein. In their biggest game of the season so far they scored five tries to two and, probably most disappointing for Robert du Preez, prevented his side from gaining a valuable bonus-point for losing by less than seven.
The Free State scrum was totally dominant throughout the game and once they took the lead the signs were ominous for the home side that this was going to be touch battle.
This was by far the Sharks's worst performance of the season and even if they were due one, they have now lost two games on the bounce and a total loss of momentum. They are losing steam at a crucial stage and Du Preez will be alarmed by the many basic errors his players made throughout the game.
The visitors took an early lead thanks to a penalty try which was a testament to how well they scrummed. The Sharks overtook them briefly for the only time when Curwin Bosch, who kept his team in the game with an excellent kicking display, slotted his third penalty.
Michael van der Spuy gave his team the lead again when he charged down a kick from Andre Esterhuizen inside the Sharks 22. Zeilinga converted before he and Bosch exchanged penalties which gave the Cheetahs a 17-12 half-time lead.
The Sharks kept on making silly mistakes and were caught napping a few times. The first time was shortly after the break when the home side had a scrum deep inside their 22. Some excellent work by the Cheetahs forwards wheeled the scrum. The Sharks were unable to control it at the back and Tian Meyer managed to kick the ball through before beating to opponents to ground the ball first behind the Sharks tryline.
Uzair Cassiem secured the bonus-point after some strong ball carrying saw him barge over the line. The Sharks looked down and out, but they fought back and gave themselves some hope when Francois Kleinhans scored after a period of sustained pressure in the Cheetahs 22 and with his team reduced to 14 men after Jean-Luc du Preez's yellow card for a dangerous tackle.
However, their fortunes were summed up shortly afterwards when the Cheetahs almost immediately hit back with another five-pointer. At a lineout, the Cheetahs made a short throw to Shaun Venter, who gave a dummy pass before scoring what effectively ended the home side;s chances of pulling this one out of the fire.
The Sharks did manage to score late through Thomas du Toit, but Bosch missed his only kick of the game to deny them a bonus-point which they probably didn't deserve.
For the Sharks
Tries: Kleinhans, Du Toit
Pens: Bosch 6
Yellow card: Du Preez
For Free State Cheetahs
Tries: Penalty try, Van der Spuy, Meyer, Cassiem, Venter
Cons: Zeilinga 5
The Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S’bura Sithole, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Ruan Botha/Jean Droste, 19 Jean Deysel/Francois Kleinhans, 20 Michael Claassens/Hanco Venter, 21 Wandile Mjekevu, 22 Rhyno Smith
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer (c), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Justin Basson, 19 Niell Jordaan, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Niel Marais, 22 Michael van der Spuy
Date: Saturday, September 10
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Time: 17:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)