Fright for Free State

The Vodacom Cheetahs survived a second-half Pumas fightback to win their Absa Currie Cup match 42-27 in Bloemfontein.

The home side led 34-6 soon after half-time, but three quick Pumas tries saw the visitors trail by seven points with 10 minutes to go. However, a penalty from scrumhalf Falie Oelshig and a try from winger Giscard Pieters on the full-time hooter sealed the win.

The Cheetahs went into the fifth round game overwhelming favourites and showed exactly why by outplaying the Pumas in the first half.

The game started with both teams attempting to gain the territorial advantage with a series of tactical kicks, but the Bloemfontein crowd would wait only seven miniutes before Cheetahs hooker, Richardt Strauss, crossed for a well constructed try. After the home side had taken the ball through a number of phases, Oelschig went blindside to Bevin Fortuin who put through a weighted grubber for Strauss to finish in the corner.

Two minutes later they struck again through a long range effort. Missed tackles by the Pumas in midfield created an overlap and the ball found Kabamba Floors, who rounded the cover defence to touch down in the corner. De Waal slotted his second conversion to take the Cheetahs to a commanding early lead.

Rassie Erasmus’s team looked dangerous every time they swung the ball wide but two penalties from veteran Pumas captain, Casper Steyn, brought the visitors back to within eight points.

A sweeping counter attack that saw the Cheetahs run the ball from their own 5m line eventually earned them a penalty inside the Pumas 22m area.

De Waal again converted, and made it 20-6 two minutes later with his second successful penalty attempt.

The game should have been over three minutes from half time when Ashton Constant failed to hook the ball from a scrum feed and the impressive Hendro Scholtz pounced on the loose ball to put wing, Gavin Passens in for his third Absa Currie Cup try of the season to make it 27-6 at the break.

The Pumas simply failed to hold on to the ball in the first half. Far too often they lost it in contact or kicked aimlessly, allowing Bevin Fortuin and company to launch one counter-attack after another. This meant they were under constant pressure and some indifferent defence made their already daunting task even harder.

An excellent bit of skill in the opening minute of the second half saw Oelschig punt the ball through on the full after Steyn attempted to chip the on coming defenders. With no cover defence, it was a race between man and ball. The ball bounced favourably for the scrumhalf and he finished well. De Waal drove the wedge in further with a conversion from out wide.

Then the game changed when a rash pass by Oelschig was intercepted by Sam Gerber, who ran in untouched to score under the posts.

Gerber seemed to have the midas touch and revived Pumas’ hope with a second try, after Sasha Marot done brilliantly to draw two defenders and offload. Steyn reduced the deficit to 14 points with the conversion.

Erasmus must have been fuming at this stage as the Cheetahs seemed to become complacent. The Pumas launched an all out assault on their goal-line in the last quarter, forcing them to scramble in defence on more than one occasion. The pressure told and Hendrik Meyer crossed the line after the ball went through the hands from a quickly taken penalty.

But Oelschig eased the pressure with a 75th minute penalty, meaning the Pumas had to score twice, before Pieters’s try wrapped it up.

Cheetahs - Tries: Richardt Strauss, Kabamba Floors, Gavin Passens, Falie Oelshig, Giscard Pieters. Conversions: Willem de Waal (4). Penalties: De Waal (2), Oelshig.
Pumas - Tries: Sam Gerber (2), Hendrik Meyer. Conversions: Casper Steyn (2), Arno Coetzee. Penalties: Steyn (2).

By Ryan Vrede