The Vodacom Cheetahs were just too good for the Cape Town side in Bloemfontein, thumping them 28-13 to reclaim the top spot on the log.
The match was played at an incredible pace throughout, and lived up to all expectation as an exhibition of great attacking rugby. However, the Cheetahs were the more clinical of the two teams, dominating in all areas of the game.
The Free State forwards were characteristically physical, and outdid the favourites in the Vodacom Western Province loose trio at the breakdown. Luke Watson had a forgettable night for WP, being totally outplayed by the likes of Ryno van der Merwe and Kabamba Floors. The battle on the ground was a sore point for the visitors, and had Willem de Waal been more accurate the scoreline could have been even more one-sided, as WP conceded plenty of penalties in this area.
Free State were also far superior in the line-out, their jumpers providing silver service for their backs and disrupting the WP throws-ins. Watson’s charges were the exact opposite, looking very shaky in the set-pieces.
The first half saw the home side mauling especially well, and it was surprising that they couldn’t garner more reward for their efforts. That is not to say that they did not create any opportunities. The Cheetahs played it wide on numerous occasions, but were thwarted by some stellar WP defence.
It was rather WP who scored the first try, created by the deftest of steps from fullback Gio Aplon, who offloaded to Bolla Conradie in space and he did little but round off the score.
Free State wasted no time in reply, and the sustained pressure on Joe Pietersen’s wing finally paid off, with Eddie Fredericks running away and eventually linking with Michael Claasens for the try. Alwyn Hollenbach had the opportunity of stretching the Cheetahs’ 13-10 lead at the half time buzzer when he beat a flimsy Watson tackle to get in at the corner. However, a TMO decision proved that a last ditch effort by Corne Uys was sufficient enough to force Hollenbach’s leg onto the corner flag, and so the champs only went into the break with a slender three point lead.
The hosts capitalised on another opportunity after the half, when Bevin Fortuin ran over Pietersen and popped the ball to a flying Philip Burger, the replacement winger, who made no mistake, and the home team took an eight point lead.
Naas Olivier had another solid evening at pivot, and goaled all of his kicks for the second consecutive week. Despite earning his 1000th point in first class rugby, De Waal had a poor night in terms of kicking for poles, with only five out nine of attempts proving successful. But his tactical kicking was very accurate, and the early bombardment on Pietersen’s wing proved highly effective.
Man-of-the-Match Hendrik Meyer was a nightmare for the WP backline, breaking the line at will and putting in some enormous hits on all would-be attackers. In the final quarter, the pressure from Free State finally told when a well-worked run by Gaffie du Toit set up Fortuin for the Cheetahs’ third try.
The match began as a great contest, but petered out as one-sided affair, with Province guilty of countless errors in the last 20 minutes. The Cheetahs are now one step closer to soldifiying a home semi-final, with the game against the Pumas next week likely to end in another four points towards the champs’ campaign.
Vodacom Cheetahs: Tries; Michael Claasens, Philip Burger, Bevin Fortuin; Conversions: Willem de Waal (2); Penalties: De Waal (3)
Vodacom Western Province: Try: Bolla Conradie; Conversion: Naas Olivier; Penalties: Olivier (2)
Cheetahs: 15. Bevin Fortuin, 14. Eddie Fredericks, 13. Chris Kruger, 12. Hendrik Meyer, 11. Gaffie du Toit, 10. Willem de Waal, 9. Michael Claassens; 8. Darron Nel, 7. Barend Pieterse, 6. Ryno van der Merwe, 5. Corniel van Zyl, 4. Rory Duncan, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Richardt Strauss, 1. Ollie le Roux (c). Reserves: 16. Wian du Preez, 17. Cobus Caldo, 18. Heinrich Brussouw, 19. Kabamba Floors, 20. Noel Oeslchig, 21. Alwyn Hollenbach, 22. Phillip Burger.
WP: 15. Gio Aplon, 14. Sireli Naqelevuki, 13. Corne Uys, 12. De Wet Barry, 11. Joe Pietersen, 10. Naas Olivier, 9. Bolla Conradie, 8. Robbie Diack, 7. Justin Melck, 6. Luke Watson (c), 5. Gerrie Britz, 4. Francois van der Merwe, 3. Juan Harris, 2. Hanyani Shimange, 1. JD Moller, Reserves: 16. Deon Fourie, 17. Schalk Ferreira, 18. Andries Bekker, 19. Francois Louw, 20. Pieter Louw, 21. Paul Delport, 22. Sarel Potgieter.
by Jon Cardinelli