Raymond Rhule scored four tries on his return to the Free State Cheetahs side that defeated the GWK Griquas 52-21 (halftime 14-7) at GWK Park in Kimberley on Saturday in the penultimate round of the 75th Absa Currie Cup.
The left winger’s tries all came in the second half as the Cheetahs ran in six tries to the home side’s three. Elgar Watts and Willie du Plessis combined with nine kicks out of ten to round off a perfect day for the men from Bloemfontein.
Both sides looked to run a fast paced game in searing 34 degree heat in the diamond capital but some of the passing and execution, especially from Griquas, was less than desired.
Watts opened the scoring for the visitors as early as the second minute with his first penalty after the home side were caught entering the ruck from the side.
The Griquas’ lineout suffered in the first half and the Cheetahs' first try came in the eighth minute when Teboho Mohoje contested a short lineout throw from Griquas a few metres from their own line.
The openside flanker stole the lineout and loosehead prop Schalk van der Merwe was able to burst over after collecting the loose ball. The signs were onimous for the hosts as the Cheetahs led 8-0 after Watts missed the conversion from the touchline.
The Cheetahs’ flyhalf added two more penalties before Griquas opened their account through some wonderful interplay between forwards and backs.
Ryno Barnes gathered the ball in midfield and straightened the backline like a true centre and fed Dalton Davis who then interlinked with his winger, Richard Lawson, who then passed back inside for Davis to score under the poles. Francois Brummer converted to half the deficit at halftime.
The visitors should have held a far greater lead than just the seven they enjoyed as the home side struggled in the scrums and lost five of their own lineouts in the first period.
The Cheetahs applied tremendous pressure in the first ten minutes of the second stanza but the Griquas showed great character and defence to hold the Cheetahs out. Watts extended the lead to 13 points with his fourth penalty of the afternoon before Rhule stole the show.
The speedster opened his account midway through the second half after spectacular work from the former Western Province and Bulls centre Johann Sadie, who took the ball at pace and broke through two tackles before offloading to Rhule on the left with a flick out the back of his hand while going to ground.
Watts converted the try as the visitors took a 21-point lead going into the last quater of the match.
The Free State flyhalf had a fantastic day, dictating play and getting his backline running at pace, and rounded off his day with a fantastic dummy to feed Hennie Daniller which allowed replacement scrumhalf, Piet van Zyl, to go over under the posts for a converted try.
The Cheetahs extended their lead to 31 points with Rhule’s second try which was converted brilliantly from the touchline by Du Plessis. The fourth try was all-important for the visitors as it gave them a vital bonus point in the race for the semifinals.
Griquas never gave up the fight and struck back three minutes later with a try by Australian lock Rory Arnold, who burst over the line with two defenders hanging on. Gouws Prinsloo converted to reduce the gap to 24 points.
Rhule nailed his hat-trick with just seven minutes left to play but, again, the winger was thankful for some excellent work from his teammates. This time, it was Springbok hooker Trevor Nyakane who broke through two tackles and then produced a side-step that Carel du Plessis would have been proud of.
Van Zyl then whipped the ball out to Rhule, who took the ball on the inside channel to score under the poles.
The Griquas then rounded off a period of seven minutes that resulted in four tries between the two sides as Jaco Negpen burst over after Jean Stemmet had chipped the Cheetahs defence, chased and gathered before being brought down just short of the line.
With two minutes left on the clock, Rhule popped up again to grab his fourth try after the Cheetahs turned the ball over just inside their own half. Rhule received the ball and charged down the left-hand touchline, with no defenders in sight, to round off the afternoon under the poles.
Rhule almost snatched a fifth try on the stroke of fulltime but the TMO ruled that the final pass from Sadie went slightly forward.
The bonus-point victory allowed the Cheetahs to move above the Lions into third position on the Currie Cup log with one game to play.
The Cheetahs entertain the Bulls next weekend in a must-win encounter if they are make the playoffs as defeat could see them lose out altogether as the Lions host Griquas and the Sharks take on Western Province in a top of the log decider.
Griquas - Tries: Dalton Davis, Rory Arnold, Jaco Nepgen ; Conversions: Francois Brummer, Gouws Prinsloo (2).
Cheetahs - Tries: Schalk van der Merwe, Raymond Rhule (4), Piet van Zyl ; Conversions: Elgar Watts (2), Willie du Plessis (3) ; Penalties: Watts (4)