Free State booked a place in the unofficial Craven Week final by beating KwaZulu-Natal 30-20 on Thursday.
The key battle was between pivots Johan Goosen and Duncan Campbell and they had a big influence in the wind-affected game. Goosen, with a more accurate boot and supported by an impressive backline, had the upper hand over his opposite number and set the platform for the hard-fought win.
Despite playing into to the wind, Free State took the early lead as superb backline interplay saw wing Inus Keyser run in at the corner. It was a touch of Grey College brilliance as Goosen’s short pop to Siphosethu Tom saw the speedster set up Keyser with a delayed pass for the opening score.
The pivots traded penalties before KZN took control of the match thanks to the boot of Campbell. With the help of the wind, the Westville pivot pinned Free State in their red zone with clever tactical kicks and forced them to play the ball from their own half.
KZN enjoyed a good period of territorial advantage and after several attempts, inside centre Patrick Howard eventually slipped through three defenders out wide to dot down under the posts. Campbell’s conversion levelled the scores and his penalty moments later gave his team the lead for the first time in the match.
However, inside centre Paul Jordaan’s 35m solo run created a try for hooker Anrich Bitzi and Free State led 15-13 at the break.
Free State looked a better team playing with the wind in the second stanza and had a more tactical approach, spearheaded by the talented boot of Goosen. The pivot added a vital long-range penalty early on to give Free State a five-point lead.
This sparked KZN into action as they won momentum and used it to work their way back into Free State’s red zone. Free State’s discipline was poor and Campbell had two straight forward opportunities to reduce the deficit. However, he couldn’t find the target on both attempts.
Free State took advantage of KZN’s missed opportunities and secured the win with two tries through lock Gerhard Olivier and Bitzi. Keelin Bastew scored a consolation try for KZN at the death.
Free State will now meet Western Province in the unofficial Craven Week final for the second consecutive year (kick-off is at 1pm on Saturday).
By Gareth Duncan