The Cheetahs consolidated their position at the top of the Currie Cup table after claiming a 37-29 victory over the Golden Lions in Bloemfontein on Thursday.
In an entertaining encounter with plenty of thrilling action, the Cheetahs fought back from a 26-8 deficit and eventually outscored their visitor by five tries to two, although the game was in the balance until its closing stages when Tian Meyer crossed for the matchwinning try.
The result means the Cheetahs are still the only unbeaten side in the competition and they are now nine points clear of the chasing pack in the standings with 29 points from six matches.
Meanwhile, the Golden Lions, who are the defending champions, are in danger of missing out on the semi-finals after this defeat. They have also played six matches but are currently in fifth place on the table with just 17 points.
The visitors made a fine start to this match and made their intentions known from the outset. After a dominant scrum, in which the home side’s pack were forced to concede a penalty, Jaco van der Walt opened the champions’ account from the kicking tee as early as the third minute.
The Lions kept up the pressure and two further Van der Walt penalties meant they led 9-0 by the 11th minute before Niel Marais opened the Cheetahs’ account with penalty of his own in the 15th minute.
This after the visitors were reduced to 14 men when Van der Walt was sent to the sin bin for slowing the ball down cynically at a ruck close to his tryline.
The teams were soon even numbered though after Clayton Blommetjies also received a yellow card for a similar offence to Van der Walt’s on defence deep inside the Cheetahs’ 22.
With Van der Walt off the field Andries Coetzee took over the goalkicking duties for the Lions and added another penalty which meant the visitors led 12-3, but the Cheetahs got over for the game’s first try when Raymond Rhule ghosted past Coetzee in the Lions’ 22 before dotting down.
The Golden Lions dominated for the next 10 minutes, however, and tries from Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Robbie Coetzee meant they were in control with the score at 26-8 after 35 minutes.
The Cheetahs didn’t panic though and shortly afterwards Reniel Hugo crossed for his team’s second try, after gathering a perfectly-weighted grubber kick from Marais, which meant the Lions had an 11-point lead at the interval.
The Lions ran out of gas in the second half though with their only points coming via a Van der Walt penalty in the 65th minute. Things went pear-shaped for the visitors when Fabian Booysen was yellow carded after playing the ball with his hands at a ruck inside the Cheetahs half in the 48th minute.
The Cheetahs made full use of their numerical advantage and tries from Shaun Venter and Rayno Benjamin – of which Marais converted one – meant they were soon in front by a single point.
Marais added another penalty in the 60th minute before Van der Walt slotted his fourth penalty five minutes later, but the Cheetahs sealed victory when Meyer dived over after running onto a pass from Niell Jordaan at a scrum on the Lions’ five-metre line in the 78th minute.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Rhule, Hugo, Venter, Benjamin, Meyer
Cons: Marais 3
Pens: Marais 2
Yellow Card: Blommetjies
For Golden Lions:
Tries: Janse van Rensburg, Coetzee
Cons: Van der Walt 2
Pens: Van der Walt 4, Coetzee
Yellow Cards: Van der Walt, Booysen
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Nico Lee, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Tshego Nche
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Niell Jordaan, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Fred Zeilinga
Golden Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Selom Gavor, 13 Jacques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronje (c), 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Albertus ‘Kwagga’ Smith, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 JP du Preez, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith.
Replacements: 16 Armand ‘Akker’ van der Merwe, 17 Pieter Scholtz, 18 Martin Muller, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Dillon Smit, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Howard Mnisi.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Lourens van der Merwe, Jaco Kotze
TMO: JJ Wagner