A powerful scrum performance from the Cell C Sharks forwards laid the platform for a bonus point 33-29 Currie Cup victory over a game Free State side in Bloemfontein on a hot Saturday afternoon.
Head coach of Free State, Daan Human admitted before the game that a win for the home team would be an upset for the books but perhaps it was an incitement to perform because this was a very gutsy performance from a second-string Free State who only narrowly lost out on a first win in this year’s competition.
Head coach Robert du Preez had expressed his desire that his team play with more patience and initially he would have been frustrated at numerous opportunities going awry in the Free State 22, as well as a TMO ruling against a first try.
But we finally turned potential into action with a good build-up and some clinical interplay to send Marius Louw into space before he drew the last defender and sent Lwazi Mvovo over for the opening try of the match just shy of the quarter hour.
The next 10 minutes of the game became somewhat disjointed with Free State barely getting a sniff of the ball, but capitalising on a lineout error before taking possession into our 22 and then scoring their opening try to draw level.
Not five minutes later the home side doubled their try-scoring tally when they took advantage of turnover ball in their 22 and worked their way downfield, once more scoring against the run of play.
But with a resurgent and dominant scrum putting huge pressure on the Free State pack, we once more asserted ourselves in the game and two scrum penalties put us in a position from which to score with the forwards driving over and captain Chiliboy Ralepelle the man in possession to even the scores with just under 15 minutes of the first half remaining.
Free State struck back immediately with a penalty to take the lead, but were then themselves penalised for the exact same infraction of the rules – obstruction – and as we had all match, opted to kick the ball to touch rather than at posts and were rewarded when Wian Vosloo was this time the man at the back of the driving maul. Du Preez converted for a 19-15 half-time score.
The second half got off to a successful start with an early penalty sent to touch (the eighth such kickable penalty) and from the ensuing driving maul, Ralepelle was once more at the back to score his second and team’s fourth try.
Louis Fouche managed to elude the defence for his second try 10 minutes later and converted to return it to a four point game.
The teams hammered away at each other for the next while, intent on scoring but unable to before a patient build-up was rewarded when Cameron Wright flicked the ball back to a marauding Daniel du Preez who cantered in under the posts for an easy conversion. Importantly, it helped to establish an 11 point lead with 10 minutes of the game remaining.
With two minutes to go, we conceded the duel ignominy of a penalty try and a yellow card for a driving maul that was pulled down and we once again had a tenuous four point cushion, but ultimately the home side had left matters too late and could not recover in time to take the spoils.