A late Willie du Plessis penalty secured the Free State Cheetahs a 30-30 draw with the Sharks in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
A Willie du Plessis penalty penalty in injury time secured the Free State Cheetahs a hard-fought 30-30 draw with the Sharks in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
In a match played at a high intensity but characterised by several handling errors, especially from the Sharks, the Cheetahs made better use of their opportunities especially in the first half when they dominated proceedings.
They took their foot off the gas in the second half, however, which allowed the champions to come back into the game and, in the end, the hosts nearly finished on the losing side.
The Sharks opened the scoring via a Lionel Cronje penalty but the hosts struck back shortly afterwards when Sarel Pretorious spotted a gap, close to the visitors' try-line, and crossed over for the opening try.
Willie du Plessis added the extras which gave the hosts a 7-3 lead but although the Sharks had the bulk of the possession they couldn't convert that dominance into points.
They were made to pay for that when 10 minutes later, Pretorius crossed over for his second try. This after the ball was booted upfield, from close to the halfway line.
Pretorius still had work to do but the ball bounced kindly for him and he went over under the posts.
Du Plessis succeeded with the conversion but the Cheetahs suffered a setback shortly afterwards when George Marich was sent to the sin bin for kicking an opponent on the ground.
The Sharks made the most of their numerical advantage and five minutes before the break S'bura Sithole showed great strength and tenacity as he powered his way past four defenders before scoring their first try.
Cronje added the extras which meant the Cheetahs held a 14-10 lead but Du Plessis added another three-pointer to extend his side's lead.
Cronje cancelled out that effort with another penalty for the Sharks shortly afterwards which meant the Cheetahs went into the sheds with a 17-13 lead at the interval.
The start of the second half was less subdued than the early stages of the first half and the first points of the half was only added in the 54th minute when Tienie Burger scored the hosts' first try after JP du Plessis did well to draw in two defenders close to the Sharks' line before offloqading to the on-rushing Burger.
The Sharks struck back via another Cronje penalty before Andre Esterhuizen exposed a hole in the Cheetahs' defence before scoring his first try for the Durban-based outfit in his Currie Cup debut.
Cronje converted but Du Plessis added his second penalty two minutes later which meant the Cheetahs were leading 27-23 with about 15 minutes left to play.
The Sharks thought they had scored again when SP Marais got over the hosts' try-line but a superb covering tackle from JP du Plessis knocked the ball from his grasp just before he dotted down.
The visitors didn't panic and two minutes before full-time their captain Tera Mtembu burrowed his way over from close quarters for a converted try.
This meant they held a three-point lead but Du Plessis' three-pointer at the death meant the hosts could at least leave with a share of the spoils.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Pretorius 2, Burger
Cons: Du Plessis 3
Pens: Du Plessis 3
Tries: Sithole, Esterhuizen, Mtembu
Pen: Cronje 3
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Rayno Benjamin, 14 Maphutha Dolo, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 JP du Plessis, 10 Willie Du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Pieter Labuschagne, 7 Neil Claassen, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Henco Venter, 3 George Marich, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Abraham le Roux, 17 Rudolph Botha, 18 Werner Lourens, 19 Vincent Jobo, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 AJ Coertzen.
Sharks: 15 Tim Swiel, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Conrad Hoffmann 8 Tera Mtembu, (c), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Marco Wentzel, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Johan Meyer, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 SP Marais.
Referee: Stuart Berry