The Toyota Free State Cheetahs held off a spirited second-half fightback from GWK Griquas to win a fierce local Absa Currie Cup Premier Division derby 35-20 (halftime 17-6) at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
First-half scores by Ross Geldenhuys and Robert Ebersohn gave the hosts a comfortable lead at the break, but the visitors hit back with scores of their own by Marnus Schoeman and Jannie Boshoff, which helped level the scores at 20-20 late on.
But Hennie Daniller went over 10 minutes from time and Raymond Rhule scored after the hooter to secure a vital fourth bonus-point try that lifted the Cheetahs from bottom to fourth place on the log.
Griquas are second bottom, but they can be pleased by the determination they showed in the second half.
The opening try arrived in the ninth minute after some patient build-up play by the hosts, which included 10 phases, with prop Geldenhuys, aided by Philip van der Walt, barging his way over on the left.
The visitors hit back courtesy of a fine long-range penalty by Francois Brummer after lock Izak van der Westhuizen was penalised for illegal entry into a ruck.
Griquas were reduced to 14 men in the 22nd minute when Willie le Roux was shown a yellow card for what the referee deemed cynical play after not getting back 10 metres quickly enough following a penalty.
Seconds later and Ebersohn was over for a try under the post after Rhule drew two men towards him following a penalty scrum by the home team.
The Cheetahs continued to make the most of their numerical advantage, but wasted two further try-scoring chances, before deciding to kick for the poles, with Nico Scheepers making it three from three by adding to his two earlier conversions.
Brummer then missed a speculative shot at goal from his own half, before knocking over a second penalty to leave his side trailing by 11 points six minutes before the interval.
It remained that way until the break and after the restart, Griquas came out looking like a completely changed unit.
They attacked the advantage line with real aggression and were only denied a try by some desperate home defence and an unfortunate Le Roux knock-on as he crossed the whitewash.
But the men from Kimberley landed their reward in the 52nd minute when they boldly opted to set up a line-out instead of taking the three points.
Once the ball was brought down, Schoeman seemed to bounce off four players before his sheer determination saw him stretch over the line.
The gap was four points at that stage, although Scheepers took it back to seven with a penalty straight after.
The visitors drew level via a converted Boshoff try on the hour mark when Jean Stemmet and Le Roux did brilliantly to send the winger away after an initial burst by Schoeman.
With 15 minutes to go, Ebersohn was unsuccessful with a drop-goal attempt, but Scheepers, who kicked 15 points in total, did put Naka Drotske’s men ahead with a penalty from over 40 metres out.
Victory was then sealed when Daniller picked up a low pass superbly at his heels wide on the left and went over – JP Nel picking up a yellow card in the build-up for a high tackle on Rhule.
Rhule himself went over at the death to cap a crucial win for the Cheetahs.
TOYOTA FREE STATE CHEETAHS – Tries: Ross Geldenhuys, Robert Ebersohn, Hennie Daniller, Raymond Rhule. Conversions: Nico Scheepers (3).
Penalties: Scheepers (3).
GWK GRIQUAS – Tries: Marnus Schoeman, Jannie Boshoff. Conversion:
Francois Brummer (2). Penalties: Brummer (2).