The Free State Cheetahs scored six tries in their 43-20 bonus-point win against the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The bulk of the damage was done in the first half. The Cheetahs dominated the collisions and breakdowns. The forwards and backs combined brilliantly to keep the ball alive in contact and stretch the Bulls defence.
The Cheetahs scored three tries in the first stanza. The cool goal-kicking of Fred Zeilinga ensured that the hosts went to break with a commanding 24-10 lead.
The highlight of the first half was the 50m try scored by the Cheetahs loosehead prop. The hosts forced a turnover deep inside their own 22, and proceeded to counter-attack. Ox Nche received the ball on the halfway line, and then pinned his ears back as he headed for the left-hand corner flag. The cover defence failed to haul the big man in, and there was a hearty cheer around the ground as Nche dived over for the try.
The Cheetahs also produced several telling plays on defence. Uzair Cassiem won two lineouts against the throw in the dying stages of the first half. These timely steals ensured that the Bulls did not score before half-time.
The Bulls battled to respond. Last week, the Bulls dominated their opponents at the breakdown and racked up as many as 45 points. On this occasion, however, the Bulls were outplayed at the rucks and their defence struggled to contain the Cheetahs' ball-carriers.
Cassiem scored the hosts' fourth try in the 49th minute to clinch the bonus point. When William Small-Smith scored the Cheetahs' fifth in the 56th minute, the result appeared to be in the bag.
And yet the Cheetahs maintained their shape on defence. They conceded just seven points in the final quarter despite the visitors' intent to score tries and narrow the deficit.
The hosts would also have the last say in the contest. Rayno Benjamin finished in the left-hand corner, and replacement flyhalf Niel Marais added the extras. The score allowed the Cheetahs to win by 23 points and thus maintain their position at the top of the Currie Cup log by virtue of their superior points difference.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Francois Venter, Clayton Blommetjies, Ox Nche, Uzair Cassiem, William Small-Smith, Rayno Benjamin. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4), Niel Marais. Penalty: Zeilinga.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp. Conversions: Tian Schoeman, Joshua Stander. Penalties: Schoeman (2).
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Justin Basson, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Shaun Venter, 21 Niel Marais, 22 Maphutha Dolo.
Blue Bulls – 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Dan Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Entienne Swanepoel, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 Duncan Matthews.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images