The Toyota Free State Cheetah scored 16 unanswered second-half points against a 14-man EP Kings side to win 16-6 and keep the South African rugby status quo as it is, confirming their place in the Premier Division of Absa Currie Cup rugby next season.
The match was never going to be a spectacle, especially with rain belting down into the Nelson Mandela Stadium, and any chance the Kings had of making a go at the huge deficit they came into the fixture with was gone before halftime when halfback Falie Oelschig was red carded for a punch.
The Kings came into the game 39 points in the red after their 53-14 drubbing last weekend in Bloemfontein. Not only did they have to win by 40, but they also had to deny the Cheetahs a bonus point of any sort if they wanted to play Premier Division rugby next season.
It was never likely to happen, but in a game that will never be remembered as a classic they deserve some credit for an improved performance. Indeed, for the most part of the game they led on the scoreboard against a Cheetahs side that looked listless and disinterested with the task at hand.
Still, the Kings did show the intensity and played with a lot of heart on the evening, a far cry from their own disasterous performance in Bloemfontein a week earlier when the promotion-relegation battle was basically settled.
After two matches there will still be real worried faces both in Port Elizabeth and at SA Rugby with the prospect of the Kings setting new lows in Super Rugby a distinct possibility, especially if they aren’t able to attract some big name players before the start of the season. Despite all the hype, the end result is now that the Kings will play in Vodacom Super Rugby but not in the Absa Currie Cup Premier division, while for the MTN Lions it will be the other way around.
The Kings were certainly the better side in the first half, and had two penalties by George Whitehead to thank for their 6-0 halftime lead.
But deep in the trenches, the remarks column will not mention Sias Ebersohn’s two misses from close range, while Falie Oelschig’s red card and a few big injuries to the Cheetahs were the only real talking points from the stanza.
While the Cheetahs lost both Marcel van der Merwe and Phillip van der Walt early with injuries to go with Adriaan Strauss’s withdrawal before the game, they weren’t getting the better of the exchanges either and looked uninspired.
Oelschig probably ended what chance his team had of going for the victory when he tried to wrestle the ball away from stand-in Cheetahs captain Robert Ebersohn, then popped a short punch which was picked up by the final of several long and inconclusive replays, prompting the TMO to recommend a red card.
While the laws proclaim a red for punching, the move looked a bit harsh, especially as there was no evidence of the punch landing and it was far from conclusive. Either way, a yellow would probably have been a fairer option, although once the TMO had ruled, there was little choice left for referee Craig Joubert.
The red effectively ended the game as a spectacle as well, but the Cheetahs were still unable to break through until midway in the second half when Nico Scheepers finally put through a penalty.
From there it was only really a question of how long the Kings could hold out. Several phases later and the inevitable try came, this time by the same flyhalf Ebersohn to take the lead, and Nico Scheepers added the extras.
Scheepers added two late penalties to seal the match, and the Kings’ fate in the B-section for another year.
FREE STATE CHEETAHS - Tries: Sias Ebersohn. Conversions: Nico Scheepers. Penalties: Nico Scheepers (3).
EP KINGS - Penalties: George Whitehead (2)