Free State off to winning start
Fullback Riaan Smit scored a hat-trick of tries as Free State kicked off their Vodacom Cup campaign with a 55-19 (halftime 22-5) victory over the Valke at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Smit, the man of the match, combined well with his fellow backs as the young Free Staters scored eight tries to three on a hot afternoon.
The home side raced into a 10-0 lead as early as the eighth minute thanks to a penalty from flyhalf Louis Strydom, who would finish with 15 points and who then set up veteran wing Eddie Fredericks for a try.
Strydom used the blindside well to free up Springbok flanker Heinrich Brüssow, playing his first match after a long injury layoff. Brüssow dummied his way through the defence before passing to centre Corné Uys, who in turn put Fredericks away.
A hiding looked on the cards when Brüssow barged over from a driving maul three minutes later to make it 15-0, but the visitors, twice Vodacom Cup champions in their heyday, fought back admirably.
Debutant fullback Arno Poley put his side on the board with a try in the 22nd minute after a good break upfield by grizzled prop Zane Killian produced a multi-phased siege on the Free State line.
With playing swinging back and forth and numerous handling errors preventing any real flowing action, it was fullback Smit who capped an industrious half with an opportunistic try five minutes before the break.
Poley contested a high kick on his 22-metre line and when the ball bobbled backwards it was Smit, thanks to good following up, who was on hand to scoot away unopposed.
Strydom added the extra points to give his team a handy 17-point lead as the halftime oranges were sliced.
Free State claimed their bonus point less than two minutes into the second half thanks to a try in the corner by Uys after good distribution by centre Morgan Newman, formerly of Western Province, and Smit.
Smit was rewarded for his anticipation with a second try after 50 minutes when he followed up a long-range passing movement that finished with the long-legged fullback dotting down underneath the posts for Strydom to convert.
Abrasive hooker Shöne van der Walt capitalised on some poor close-range defence by Free Staters to charge over from a five-metre tap penalty to make it 34-12 with 25 minutes remaining.
But it was that man Smit who picked up his hat-trick when he displayed some fancy footwork to dive over at the posts in the 68th minute for the home side’s sixth try.
Eighthman Brendon Groenewald added a seventh with eight minutes remaining and Uys his second two minutes later as the gallant Valke ran out of defensive legs.
Free State 55 – Tries: Eddie Fredericks, Heinrich Brüssow, Riaan Smit (3), Corné Uys (2), Brendon Groenewald. Conversions: Louis Strydom (6). Penalty: Strydom.
Valke 19 – Tries: Arno Poley, Shöne van der Walt (2). Conversions: Dillon Laubscher (2).