The Toyota Free State XV overcame an 11-point half-time deficit on their way to a hard-fought 36-28 win over a gallant Border Bulldogs (half-time 10-21) in their Vodacom Cup South Section match at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Left wing Nico Scheepers scored a hat-trick of tries and kicked three conversions for a match haul of 21 points while inside centre Barry Geel grabbed a brace of tries as the hosts had to overcome a committed performance from Border.
Border have now lost all five of their matches this year but they led until the 54th minute before Free State finally took control of the contest.
The hosts dominated the early exchanges in a scrappy first half but the visitors, against the run of play, edged into a 6-0 lead after 17 minutes thanks to two penalties from flyhalf Ntabeni Dukisa.
But the Free State struck back in the 20th minute with their best period of play in the half as they took the ball through seven phases before Scheepers went over for a converted try as Border simply ran out of defenders.
However, Border belied their lowly position on the log and they regained the lead when Dukisa kicked a penalty before the visitors scored two tries in the last six minutes of the half.
Fullback Logan Basson, brother of Springbok wing Bjorn, intercepted a loose pass five metres from his own half to speed away for a 95-metre breakout score.
Dukisa kicked the conversion and, on the stroke of half-time, Border had their second try after scrumhalf Ntando Kebe was on hand to dive over from close-range after an incisive break from left wing Vuyo Mbotho.
The home team began the second half with far more enterprise and the advent of loose forward Davon Raubenheimer off the bench seemed to give their forwards an immediate boost.
Free State began their comeback 11 minutes after the restart when Scheepers went over for his second try after a scorching run from fullback Philip Burger.
Two tries followed in the next seven minutes with Geel dotting down twice as the hosts stretched their lead to 29-21 after 58 minutes.
Border refused to give up and, with 14 minutes left in the contest, replacement scrumhalf Lesley-Dean Luiter dummied his way over for a converted try to leave the score 29-28.
But Scheepers finally killed off the visitors with his hat-trick try, in the 73rd minute, when he finished off a move that he had started deep in his own half.
Toyota Free State XV – Tries: Nico Scheepers (3), Barry Geel (2); Conversions: Scheepers (3); Riaan Smit; Penalties: Smit.
Border Bulldogs – Tries: Logan Basson, Ntando Kebe, Lesley-Dean Luiter; Conversions: Ntabeni Dukisa, Louis Kruger; Penalties: Dukisa (3).