Hard work for Cheetahs in Kimberley
There was nothing easy about it as the Vodacom Free State Cheetahs beat the GWK Griquas in their Absa Currie Cup Premier Division match in Kimberley on Friday, defending their way to a 33-28 (halftime 17-9) victory.
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It took an inspired defensive performance by the Cheetahs for them to see off a Griquas team that always grows an extra arm and a leg in Kimberley.
The Cheetahs struggled to get into gear in the first quarter and, with Griquas flyhalf Naas Olivier in good form with the boot, the home side went into a 9-0 lead via two penalties and a brilliant drop goal from close to the halfway line.
But Kimberley is just up the drag from home for the Free Staters, of course, and eighthman Ashley Johnson, who is in fine form and was always dangerous with ball in hand, rounded off a period of sustained pressure to score the Cheetahs' opening try after 20 minutes.
The same can be said of Cheetahs flyhalf Louis Strydom when it comes to kicking form and he added the conversion and a penalty to put the visitors in the lead on the half-hour.
Griquas ended the first half with the bitter taste of wasted opportunities in their mouths. Olivier bended an easy penalty past the right upright and, with Griquas on attack in the Free State 22, scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius knocked-on, leading to a turnover which would see deadly finisher Jongikhaya Nokwe scoring at the other end.
The brilliant try featured two players who have sipped Springbok glory - Nokwe and Johnson - showing superb running and stepping skills, while another player close to international honours, fullback Hennie Daniller, sparked the counter-attack.
Strydom converted and then kicked two penalties in the first five minutes of the second half as Griquas looked certain losers trailing 9-23.
But they then seized control of possession and recycled the ball again and again close to the Free State line so the defenders eventually ran out and Olivier had a big overlap and an easy try.
The Cheetahs struck back almost immediately though as centre Meyer Bosman showed he can also be as slippery as an eel as his elusive run and deft pass allowed Nokwe to cross for the wing's second try. Strydom's conversion put the visitors 30-14 ahead.
The Griquas thoroughly dominated the final quarter, however, with the Cheetahs forced into desperate defence for long periods. Eventually there was no more air left in their lungs and lock Cecil Kemp scored for the home side, Olivier converting to close the gap to 21-30.
A penalty by Bosman gave the Cheetahs a moment's breathing space and a valuable extra three points but the last 10 minutes certainly weren't fun for the visitors as Griquas piled on the pressure and camped on their line for long stretches.
It was a top-class defensive display by the Free Staters that limited the home side to just a single try in that period, eighthman Burger Schoeman fighting his way over.
Johnson emerged as a worthy candidate for man of the match thanks to his hefty workload both in attack and defence.
GWK Griquas - Tries: Naas Olivier, Cecil Kemp, Burger Schoeman. Conversions: Olivier (2). Penalties: Olivier (2). Drop goal: Olivier.
Vodacom Free State Cheetahs - Tries: Ashley Johnson, Jongikhaya Nokwe (2). Conversions: Louis Strydom (3). Penalties: Strydom (3), Meyer Bosman.