Cheetahs thrash Pumas, grab bonus point
The Vodacom Free State Cheetahs took half-an-hour to show their fangs but eventually hunted down the bonus point as they hammered the Barloworld Toyota Pumas 59-24 (halftime 26-3) in their Absa Currie Cup Premier Division match in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The Pumas dominated possession in the opening half-hour, but had only an Elgar Watts penalty to show for it, before the Cheetahs tore into the visitors in the last 15 minutes of the first half, running in four tries to seal the bonus point.
The bonus point was crucial for the Free Staters because, while Western Province and the Blue Bulls are always likely to earn maximum points this weekend and remain in front of them on the log, it means the Lions cannot overtake them even if they win with a bonus point against the Sharks on Saturday.
The Cheetahs defended well in the first half and were patient in terms of their build-up and hanging on to possession. They bided their time through a series of rucks before prop WP Nel eventually crashed over for the opening try from close to the line, in the 24th minute.
Outside centre Robert Ebersohn scored the second try seven minutes later, stepping his way past three defenders, although his try owed much to the slick hands of midfield partner Meyer Bosman and his canny switch-pass.
Eighthman Ashley Johnson's try three minutes later featured a whole wad of handlers, with Bosman and Ebersohn again interacting to good effect.
By this stage, the Cheetahs were thoroughly dominant and the Pumas were forced to use foul means in order to slow down their stream of quick possession, which is why flank Jaco Bouwer was yellow-carded shortly before halftime, and the home side used their numerical advantage to send hooker Adriaan Strauss over for a try on the hooter.
Nel, Johnson and Strauss all secured their brace with tries in the first nine minutes of the second half, and the Cheetahs were home and dry, looking at an annihilation as they led 45-3.
But the Pumas side is one that still has a fair measure of self-belief and they are dangerous counter-attackers, as they showed in the 55th minute. Centre Siviwe Magaba is a well-travelled player and he thundered through a gap between Bosman and Ebersohn and then found Venter in support for a rousing try that started from just outside the Mpumalanga 22.
The try only briefly silenced the din at Vodacom Park, however, as veteran replacement hooker Skipper Badenhorst managed to get himself on to the scoresheet as he ran on to a pass from close range and burrowed over.
The Pumas did manage to obtain two more tries before the final whistle, replacement flyhalf Ricardo Croy using his silky skills and replacement hooker Hans van Dyk a more direct approach.
Replacement centre Corne Uys capped a sweet evening of success for the Cheetahs with his try.
The forwards was where Free State really won the contest and Strauss, Johnson and prop Coenie Oosthuizen were all impressive.
The home team did suffer one setback when wing Jongikhaya Nokwe went off just after the hour mark with what looked to be a hamstring injury.
For the Pumas, much of their early dominance lay in the astute use of their ball by flyhalf Watts.
Bosman was in fine form in the Cheetahs backline and he also kicked two conversions, while Louis Strydom succeeded with five before he was substituted.
Croy converted all three Pumas tries, including the one he scored.
The victory has moved the Cheetahs into third place in the Currie Cup Premier Division standings.
The Pumas are 12 points ahead of the last-placed Leopards, but will still be involved in promotion/relegation matches with the South-Western Districts Eagles.
Vodacom Free State Cheetahs - Tries: WP Nel (2), Robert Ebersohn, Ashley Johnson (2), Adriaan Strauss (2), Skipper Badenhorst, Corne Uys. Conversions: Louis Strydom (5), Meyer Bosman (2).
Barloworld Toyota Pumas - Tries: Shaun Venter, Ricardo Croy, Hans van Dyk. Conversions: Croy (3). Penalty: Elgar Watts.