Second-half blitz seals the deal for the visitors
The Free State Cheetahs made it back-to-back Currie Cup victories as they turned in a fine second-half performance to beat Griquas 29-16 in Kimberley on Saturday.
The teams were level 10-all at the break, but the Cheetahs raced clear in the second half with three great tries to seal a deserved win in this Central Unions derby.
Griquas captain Ryno Barnes readily admitted that his side had become a 'first-half team', as they had a similar outcome against Western Province last week - putting up a spirited first-half showing, only to fall off the pace after the break.
The Cheetahs' scrum was under early pressure, so much so that they ending up conceding a free kick and a penalty in the first quarter. Prop Trevor Nyakane lasted just on 20 minutes, before Schalk van der Merwe was called into action. The strapping on Nyakane's hand may have suggested an injury. This brought about a change in the visitors' set piece fortunes.
In that first half Griquas had 80 percent of the possession, but found the Cheetahs' defence an impenetrable wall.
And after the break the Cheetahs turned up the heat with a fast-paced ball-in-hand game that at times left the Griquas defenders grasping at thin air.
The visitors also had much more possession, which meant Griquas could not use the wind to chase the Cheetahs back into their own half - not to mention the taxing nature of the additional defending the home team was forced to do.
With a blustering cross-field wind making conditions very tough, the early stages of the match was dominated by the boot.
It did not help that the referee's whistle was forced to dominate, as the penalties came at regular intervals - especially the Cheetahs at the breakdown - and a host of handling errors contributed to the stop-start nature of the encounter.
Griquas, for their part, were simply not clinical enough - at one stage taking the ball through 15 phases before coughing it up inside the Cheetahs 22.
Francois Brummer had the first real scoring opportunity, a penalty against Cheetahs when they went off their feet at the breakdown just outside the 22, but he pushed the attempt well wide - as the wind continued to have a telling influence.
The men form Kimberley butchered another scoring opportunity soon afterwards - first their maul from five metres out was stopped, then they were held up over the line, the following scrum was disrupted and finally a forward pass ended a period of dominance near the Cheetahs line.
The Cheetahs' first scoring opportunity came in the 25th minute - flyhalf Johann Goosen lining up a penalty from 65 metres out, but he was well short with what was a very ambitious attempt. Goosen's next attempt was from 'only' 50 metres out and while he had the distance, he pushed it wide.
Goosen eventually opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, a penalty kick from 25 metres out, after Griquas were guilty of slowing down the ball in the tackle.
This seemed to spark Griquas back into life and it was fitting that a forward, lock Rynhard Landman, went over for the first try - as the Griquas pack had been bashing away without any reward till the 35th minute. The conversion was wide, as Brummer struggled with the testing wind.
Almost from the restart Griquas unleashed their runners, with Rocco Jansen going over for the second try after some sublime interplay between forwards and back. Brummer was still having trouble with the wing, but it was a 10-3 lead for the home team.
The Cheetahs got one back, right on half-time, as Sarel Pretorius took a quick tap for a penalty five metres out and from a ruck right on the line flank Pieter Labuschagne went over for the try. Goosen added the conversion as the teams went in level, 10-all, at the break.
Brummer, with the wind now at his back, finally landed a kick - a penalty in the 50th minute, as the Cheetahs went offside under pressure right in front of their posts.
The Cheetahs hit back from the restart, as they regained the ball from the kick-off and kept it in hand through the phases for flank Frans Viljoen to go over for a well-worked team try. Sias Ebersohn, on for Goosen, added the conversion for a 17-13 lead.
Wing Raymond Rhule scored the next try, but it was again set up by the hard work of the loose forwards as the Cheetahs continued to go through the phases. This time Ebersohn was wide of the mark with the conversion, but at 22-13 the Cheetahs had given themselves some breathing space.
Just as the game moved into the final quarter, Griquas managed to turn up the heat enough to earn a penalty inside the Cheetahs 22 and Brummer managed to land his second king of the day - 16-22.
However, the Cheetahs got their bonus point try soon afterwards - Sarel Pretorius going over after another quick-tap penalty five metres out. Nico Scheepers, who took over the kicking duties from Ebersohn, slotted the conversion to make it 29-16 - leaving the home team with a mountain to climb and just under 15 minutes left on the clock.
Griquas now threw everything into the game to salvage at least a bonus point, but the tiring men from Kimberley simply lacked the execution to finish off their limited opportunities.
Man of the match: Griquas had a few players who tried gamely, but the real heroes were in orange and white. The Cheetahs loose forwards - Lucas Floors, Pieter Labuschagne and Frans Viljoen - made life decidedly unpleasant for the home team and were all in the running. However, our award goes to Cheetahs scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius, who showed that he is indeed more than just a running scrumhalf. Although he had his usual snipes around the base of the breakdown, and the Cheetahs scored two tries from quick-tap penalties by the No.9, it was his tactical kicking that sometimes caught Griquas offside.
Tries: Landman, Jansen
Pens: Brummer 2
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Labuschagne, Viljoen, Rhule, Pretorius
Cons: Goosen, S Ebersohn, Scheepers
Griquas: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Walter Venter, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Leon Karemaker, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Wesley Wilkins, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Rynhardt Landman, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Ryno Barnes (captain), 1 Steph Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Matthew Dobson, 17 Janro van Niekerk, 18 Ivann Espag, 19 Frikkie Spies, 20 Chase Minnaar, 21 Marnus Hugo, 22 Marnitz Boshoff.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 12 Barry Geel, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Lucas Floors, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Frans Viljoen, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Francois Uys, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Nico Scheepers.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistants: Sindile Mayende, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Shaun Veldsman