Cheetahs stay with big boys

SIMON BORCHARDT saw the Free State Cheetahs retain their Currie Cup Premier Division status with a 16-6 win against the EP Kings in Port Elizabeth.

Having won the first promotion-relegation match 53-14 in Bloemfontein, the Cheetahs just needed to avoid defeat by 40-plus points, or get a bonus point, to stay in the top flight.

EP were never going to climb their Mount Everest after Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske opted to field his strongest line-up and heavy rain began to fall early in the match. Still, the hosts produced a far better performance than last week and may have won had they not played 50 minutes of the match with 14 men.

The Kings had 60% possession in the opening 10 minutes, with flyhalf George Whitehead kicking two penalties for a 6-0 lead, and their scrum was dominant.

The Cheetahs were frustrated by the wet conditions, which hampered their expansive game, and their mood didn’t improve when flyhalf Sias Ebersohn missed two penalties.

The Kings then suffered a major setback when scrumhalf Falie Oelschig was harshly red-carded for a punch on the half-hour mark, but they managed to go into the break with their lead intact.

Both sides had try-scoring opportunities in the third quarter, but as had been the case throughout the match, poor handling let them down.

Replacement wing Nico Scheepers finally got the Cheetahs on the board with a penalty in the 61st minute, and that was followed soon after by a game-breaking try from Sias Ebersohn.

Scheepers’ touchline conversion came in off the left-hand upright and he added two late penalties to seal the win.