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Rugby | Currie Cup

Defending champs open with victory



The Toyota Free State Cheetahs ran in six tries to claim a 47-12 win (halftime 17-7) over the Cell C Sharks in the opening match of the 2017 Currie Cup at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday.

After a disappointing Super Rugby, the defending Currie Cup champion Cheetahs turned on the heat to down the KwaZulu Natal counterparts in an enterprising encounter.

In fairness to the Sharks, the majority of their first-choice players were on Super Rugby duty for Saturday's quarterfinal against the Lions, however the victory could be the tonic needed to spark the Free State side back to life after a tough start to the year.

Niel Marais opened the scoring with an early penalty, before flanker Uzair Cassiem crashed over for the game's opening try in the 12th minute.

The conversion from Marais was good, but the Sharks hit back shortly afterwards with a try from S'bura Sithole which was converted by Benhard Janse van Ransburg.

Cheetahs skipper Francois Venter scored a converted try in the 29th minute to extend the lead, before Cassiem was yellow carded in the 33rd minute.

The hosts headed into the sheds with the score reading 17-7 in their favour as Janse van Rensburg missed a shot at goal on the stroke of halftime.

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Marais added two penalty goals soon after the break, before a try by replacement hooker, Reinach Venter, took Free State out to a 28-7 lead.

Four minutes later, the result was put beyond doubt as newly capped Springbok winger Raymond Rhule crossed the chalk for the Cheetahs bonus point try.

With 10 minutes left on the clock, the Cheetahs started running away with the game as William Small-Smith got on the score sheet - Marais successful with the boot this time after missing the previous two conversions.

Replacement Bandisa Ndlovu grabbed a consolation try near the death for the Sharks, before scrumhalf Zee Mkhabela came off the bench to score the Cheetahs' sixth and final try at the final whistle.

Clayton Blommetjies had the final say in the game, converting Mkhabela's try, as the 2016 Currie Cup champions opened their account with a resounding win over their Durban counterparts.

Scorers:

Free State - Tries: Uzair Cassiem, Francois Venter, Reinach Venter, Raymond Rhule, William Small-Smith, Zee Mkhabela; Cons: Niel Marais (3), Clayton Blommetjies; Pens: Marais (3).

Sharks - Tries: S'bura Sithole, Bandisa Ndlovu; Cons: Benhard Janse van Rensburg.



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