Free State floor Province

The Free State Cheetahs secured a 30-17 bonus-point win against Western Province in Bloemfontein on Sunday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.

Province came into this contest as the only Currie Cup team yet to play a game. However, despite an untried combination of Super Rugby squad members and players from the Provincial Rugby Challenge, they didn’t look out of sorts or disjointed.

In fact, in a game played at a frenetic pace, WP matched Free State in the entertainment stakes and held their own in the physical exchanges. The difference between the sides was clinical execution.

Free State, largely due to the superb skill-set and vision of Rosco Speckman, created and finished off their scoring opportunities well. At the other end, WP’s attempts at the line were thwarted several times by either stern defence or unforced handling errors.

Speckman emerged as the Cheetahs’ biggest attacking threat and opened the scoring in the third minute with an excellent solo effort. After fielding a kick at the back, the speed merchant ran at WP’s defence, powered through a double tackle before beating two more tacklers to the tryline with sheer pace.

The visitors narrowed the gap with a penalty, but poor defensive discipline cost them as Niel Marais knocked over two penalty goals for Free State. In the 33rd minute, a yellow card handed to Oupa Mohoje presented the Cape side with an opportunity to put pressure back on the Cheetahs. And they did, but when a driving maul surged over the line, the referee disallowed the try because Province had only moved forward from a static maul after his call of ‘use it or lose it’.

It mattered little as livewire scrumhalf Justin Phillips showed brilliant ball control when he reached out and scored while lying flat on his back. The conversion from Coleman was good, thus making it a one-point game.

But on the stroke of half-time Speckman exploited the vulnerability in Province’s defence when he injected himself into the game with a strong run and popped an inside pass to William Small-Smith for a try which gave the hosts an 18-10 lead at the turn.

WP were on the back foot throughout the second stanza and lucky to concede only a further two tries.

Speckman made his second try-assist of the match when he broke the line and released captain Francois Venter for their third try. Moments later, Ox Nche who came on as a substitute, almost scored. WP were caught in possession trying to run the ball out of their 22, but were let off the hook as Nche burst over the tryline with turnover possession, only to lose control before grounding the ball.

Free State continued to pin WP in their own half, and after a sustained period of pressure new recruit Makazole Mapimpi shrugged off the attentions of Seabelo Senatla to score on debut and seal the bonus point for the hosts.

WP looked out of ideas when on attack as the match went on, and turned to their bench. This intervention saw replacement Steph de Witt cross for a late effort, but it wasn’t enough to get them a losing bonus point.

Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Rosco Speckman, William Small-Smith, Francois Venter, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Niel Marais (2). Penalties: Marais (2).
Western Province – Tries: Justin van Phillips, Steph de Wit. Conversions: Kurt Coleman, Brandon Thomson. Penalty: Coleman.

Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rosco Speckman, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niel Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Ox Nche, 17 Reinach Venter, 18 Rynier Bernado, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Ryno Benjamin, 22 Malcolm Jaer.

Western Province – 15 SP Marais, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Michael Hazner, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Kobus van Dyk, 5 JD Shickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl (c), 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Frans van Wyk, 19 Steph de Wit, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Brandon Thomson.

Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix

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Mariette Adams