The Free State Cheetahs secured the top spot on the Currie Cup log after a thrilling 38-33 win over Western Province in their final-round clash in Bloemfontein.
The Cheetahs fought back from 5-26 down just before half-time to win the game and they outscored their opponents six tries to three during the 80 minutes.
The result means that the Sharks just need a point from their match against the Blue Bulls to qualify for the play-offs and knock out Western Province.
It was nearly a perfect start for Province when centre Ruan Nel picked up a loose ball from a knock-on in the Cheetahs’ 22, but after he made his way to the tryline he lost control of the ball over the Cheetahs’ tryline.
However, Province eventually opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a penalty kick by SP Marais.
Province then raced into a 12-0 lead after 20 minutes with another three converted penalties from Marais as the Cheetahs’ discipline was starting to be a factor in the game.
That lead was extended in the 24th minute when prop Wilco Louw shocked the home fans after some great build-up play by running through the Cheetahs defence to score the first try of the game, which Marais converted.
The Cheetahs finally got their first points of the game when they broke through Province’s defence out wide and William Small-Smith was on hand to finish off the play with a try in the corner. Tian Schoeman was unable to convert the score.
That try was cancelled out in the 38th minute when Damian Willemse sliced through the Cheetahs’ defence in the midfield before passing to Dillyn Leyds who ran in for his team’s second try of the game.
However, the Cheetahs had the final say on the scoreboard in the first half when hooker Joseph Dweba crashed over for a try in the final minute. Schoeman was successful with the conversion.
At half-time, it was 26-12 in favour of Province.
Province continued their dominance at the start of the second half with some brilliant handling on attack and it eventually ended with hooker Scarra Ntubeni collecting the ball from a Marais cross-kick to go over for a try in the 45th minute.
Marais added the extra two points with the conversion to stretch his team’s lead to 21 points.
However, the Cheetahs hit back a few minutes later with captain Tian Meyer going over for his team’s third try, which was converted by Schoeman.
The Cheetahs then secured the bonus point when wing Darren Adonis was put into space down the touchline by Dries Swanepoel to sprint in for a try in the 54th minute. Schoeman added the extra two points and the Cheetahs were just seven points behind.
The home side then completed their comeback in the 61st minute when prop Ox Nche was put into a bit of space in WP’s 22 to run in for try.
Schoeman converted the try and things were all level with 19 minutes left on the clock.
Province thought they were back in front in the 67th minute when Juarno Augustus crossed the tryline. However, it was disallowed out when the TMO ruled that there was a forward pass in the build-up.
Instead, it was the Cheetahs who went in front when replacement Jasper Wiese stretched the ball over the tryline in the 72nd after sustained pressure in WP’s half. Schoeman missed the conversion.
Province had a number of opportunities to try and snatch a late victory, but they could just not break through the Cheetahs’ defence.
Man of the match: Hooker Joseph Dweba had a good game in open play, but the award goes to replacement prop Ox Nche, who was simply outstanding in all facets of the game.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Small-Smith, Dweba, Meyer, Adonis, Nche, Wiese
Cons: Schoeman 4
For Western Province:
Tries: Louw, Leyds, Ntubeni
Cons: Marais 3
Pens: Marais 4
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Darren Adonis, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Tian Meyer (captain), 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjesi, 3 Abram Venter, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Aranos Coetzee, 19 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Dries Swanepoel, 22 Louis Fouche.
Western Province: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 SP Marais, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 JD Schickerling, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Nama Xaba, 20 Juarno Augustus, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Ruhan Meiring, Mpho Matsaung
TMO: JJ Wagner
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