Cheetahs seal top spot
MATCH REPORT: The Free State Cheetahs sealed top spot in the Currie Cup standings - with a week to go - after hammering a hapless Pumas team in Nelspruit on Friday.
The Cheetahs outscored their hosts by eight tries to one - including a Rayno Benjamin hat-trick - in a 52-10 victory - which means they will not only host a semifinal next months, but also the Final should they advance.
The Cheetahs made it seven wins from seven matches as their unbeaten run in this year's Currie Cup continued, while they condemned the Pumas to their seventh consecutive loss.
The Pumas remain winless in this year's competition and they were put to the sword as the Cheetahs ran in eight tries to one.
The Cheetahs opened the scoring in the seventh minute when Benjamin bashed his way over from 10 metres out for a converted try.
The visitors had most of the play for the first 15 minutes but the Pumas finally managed to hang onto the ball long enough for flyhalf Francois Brummer to slot a close-range penalty in the 21st minute.
But the Cheetahs struck back almost immediately when flank Uzair Cassiem was mauled over for a converted try after an attacking line-out five metres from the Pumas' tryline.
The Cheetahs then constructed a wonderful team try with a move that started in their own 22-metre area with centre Francois Venter slicing through the defence before backs and forwards combined to send flank Paul Schoeman over in the right-hand corner as the visitors opened up a 19-3 lead after 26 minutes.
The visitors grabbed their bonus-point try in the 31st minute when a sweeping backline move saw fullback Clayton Blommetjies speed down the right-hand touchline before Venter was on hand to grab a well-deserved try.
The Cheetahs then conjured up another impressive try as Benjamin took a quick tap penalty five metres from the Pumas' tryline before he put in a pinpoint cross kick to the unmarked Schoeman who scored his second try of the contest as the visitors reached the break holding a commanding 31-3 lead.
It took the Cheetahs seven minutes after the restart to score yet again with Benjamin on hand to score his second try, after a quick-tap penalty.
Benjamin completed his hat-trick, in the 59th minute, when he was on the end of another sweeping move between backs and forwards.
The Pumas finally managed to breach the Cheetahs' defence, in the 71st minute, when hooker Frankie Herne muscled his way over from close range to score a converted try.
But the Cheetahs struck back when replacement hooker Elandre Huggett went over for his first Currie Cup try shortly before the end of the match.
Man of the match: You can take your pick from the entire Cheetahs team, but our award goes to Cheetahs centre and captain Francois Venter, who showed he has lost none of his zest during his injury lay-off.
For the Pumas:
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Tries:Benjamin 3, Cassiem, Schoeman 2, Venter, Huggett
Cons: Marais 5, Zeilinga
Pumas: 15 Heinrich Steyl, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 Hoffman Maritz, 12 Hennie Skorbinski, 11 Jean-Paul Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Renaldo Bothma (captain), 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 DeJay Terblanche, 18 Jeremy Jordaan, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Devon Williams, 22 Tyler Fisher.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 William Small-Smith.
Referee: Lesego Legoete
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Ricus van der Hoven
TMO: Johan Greeff