Willie du Plessis kicked an 82nd-minute penalty as the Sharks and Free State Cheetahs played to a 30-30 draw in Bloemfontein. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
It was a hollow end to a game that deserved a winner, with both sides going all out to secure the four log points. A few minutes earlier Sharks captain Tera Mtembu looked to have secured the come-from-behind victory for the visitors, but it was not to be.
The result did neither team much good in the greater scheme of things, but the disappointment would've been tempered somewhat by the knowledge that the Pumas went down to Griquas in Kimberley.
Sarel Pretorius was a threat for the Cheetahs the entire afternoon and it was the nippy scrumhalf who got things going for the hosts after an early Lionel Cronjé penalty had given the Sharks the lead. He was at his opportunistic best, diving over from close range after solid work by the Cheetahs forwards.
His second try came from a bit further out, as he ran the better part of 80m to score against the run of play. The Sharks were enjoying the lion's share of possession and territory, but were guilty once again of poor decision-making at crucial times. Conrad Hoffmann was the guilty party on two occasions, opting to play the blindside when the Sharks had an overlap out wide.
Pretorius made them pay for their profligacy after André Esterhuizen lost the ball in contact on the Cheetahs 22. He collected the ball and, realising he wouldn't have the pace to go all the way, he put boot to ball. The retreating Sharks defenders made a hash of the clean-up and Pretorius regathered to score. Despite dominating the proceedings, the Sharks found themselves 14-3 down 22 minutes in.
Cheetahs prop George Marich saw yellow shortly after for kicking Jacques Botes and the Sharks profited in his absence, with S'bura Sithole going over for the Sharks' first try. Du Plessis and Cronjé then traded penalties as the hosts went into half-time 17-13 to the good.
Tienie Burger rounded off a superb team try at the start of the second half as the Cheetahs opened up an 11-point lead. The Sharks responded well, though, and were rewarded for some enterprising play when Esterhuizen sliced through on the outside for a try on debut.
Du Plessis kept the scoreboard ticking over for the Cheetahs before Mtembu's late heroics looked to have sealed it for the Sharks.
The Cheetahs were not to be denied, though, and after kicking for the corner just prior to the hooter, sanity prevailed and Du Plessis continued his 100% goal-kicking record to ensure the spoils were shared.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Sarel Pretorius (2), Tienie Burger. Conversions: Willie du Plessis (3). Penalties: Du Plessis (3).
Sharks – Tries: S'bura Sithole, André Esterhuizen, Tera Mtembu. Conversions: Lionel Cronjé (3). Penalties: Cronjé (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 Lappies Labuschagne, 7 Neil Claassen, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Henco Venter, 3 George Marich, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 AJ le Roux, 17 Dolph 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 André Esterhuizen, 11 Tonderai Chavhanga, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 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.
Subs: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Johan Meyer, 19 Khaya Majola, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 SP Marais.
Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix