Niel Marais scored 17 points as the Free State Cheetahs romped to a 63-26 win over Griquas in the last round-robin game of the 2016 Currie Cup campaign.
The result had no impact on the semi-final lineup, with the Cheetahs already assured of a home playoff against the Golden Lions before the start of this match.
The Cheetahs looked off-colour during the early exchanges and Griqaus took full advantage with a 14th-second try, but the once the hosts found their rhythm they ran riot despite the sweltering heat. Outside centre Jonathan Francke put Griquas into the lead after the Cheetahs failed to secure possession from the initial kickoff. Buoyed by their early exploits, Griquas controlled the possession well and incessantly applied pressure on the Cheetahs defensive line. But they were too frantic inside the 22 and couldn’t turn the pressure into points.
Free State were on the backfoot throughout the opening 10 minutes and decided to carry the ball through the phases and when Griquas infringed at the breakdown, the Cheetahs hacked the ball into touch 5m from the tryline. Flank Henco Venter crashed over from the subsequent maul, but Griquas did well to hold him up off the ground.
However, a concession of penalties saw the referee lose patience with the visitors and he awarded a penalty try to the Cheetahs. Flyhalf Marais converted to put his side ahead for what proved an insurmountable lead.
Ironically, the Cheetahs’ next two tries scored by flank Uzair Cassiem and Shaun Venter in the space of two minutes, came from kickoff receipts. Centres Francois Venter and Nico Lee were full of running and their interplay from deep led to the double strike.
Griquas narrowed the gap with a second try, but static defending saw them concede three more tries before the break as the Cheetahs went into the sheds 42-12 up.
The second half was less action-packed and more error-strewn. Like they did in the first half, Griquas started well again and were rewarded with a try through Andre Swarts. The Cheetahs attack was a far cry from what they exhibited before the break, as handling errors stifled the hosts’ momentum.
But tries by Shaun Venter, Torsten van Jaarsveld and Raymond Rhule elevated their score over the 60-point mark, while Griquas managed their fourth in the 76th minute to secure a meaningless losing bonus point.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Penalty try, Uzair Cassiem, Shaun Venter (2), Henco Venter, Niel Marais, Nico Lee, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Raymond Rhule. Conversions: Marais (6), Fred Zeilinga (3).
Griquas – Tries: Jonathan Francke, Renier Botha, Andre Swarts, Jason Fraser. Conversions: Swarts (3).
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Willem Serfontein, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 William Small-Smith.
Griquas – 15 AJ Coertzen (c), 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Jonathan Francke, 12 Andre Swarts, 11 Alshaun Bock, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Renier Botha, 8 Jason Fraser, 7 Jono Janse van Rensburg, 6 Wendal Wehr, 5 Mzwanele Zito, 4 Kraai Adendorf, 3 Liam Hendriks, 2 Marius Fourie, 1 Steph Roberts.
Subs: 16 Sidney Tobias, 17 Devoin Martinus, 18 Steven Meiring, 19 Thabo Mabuza, 20 Steven Moir, 21 Eric Zana, 22 Nthabeni Dukisa.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images