The Free State Cheetahs got their Currie Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 43-27 victory over the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Friday evening.
The men from Bloemfontein started on the front foot and won a penalty just three minutes in when the Blue Bulls strayed offside. Tian Schoeman lined up the penalty attempt and successfully slotted it between the poles for an early 3-0 lead.
The visitors scored the first try of the game in the eighth minute. After setting up the lineout driving maul and making some yards, number eight Henco Venter realised there were no Blue Bulls defenders covering the space behind the maul and broke clean through before running 20 metres to dot down. Schoeman added the extras.
Soon after, the hosts hit back. Johnny Kotze made the break downfield before being brought down 20 metres out. The ball was recycled to the right wing with Manie Libbok playing an excellent long pass for Cornal Hendricks, who had a simple finish in the corner. Libbok failed to convert with the score 10-5 to the Cheetahs.
The Free State Cheetahs regained the ascendancy, however, and were camped on the Blue Bulls' try-line for a full ten minutes after winning a scrum penalty. Finally, they were rewarded for their dominance when Bernhard Janse van Rensburg scored in the right-hand corner after the ball was swung wide and Rosko Specman got sucked in on defence.
In the 33rd minute, the visitors had their third. Junior Pokomela made the break and was halted just short before the ball was recycled to Janse van Rensburg, who showed great strength to power over from close range despite the attentions of three Blue Bulls' defenders. Schoeman converted for a 22-5 lead.
Just before half-time, the hosts scored a morale-boosting try to take with them in to the interval. After winning the penalty, the ball was kicked to the corner. From there, they set up the lineout driving maul with Ruan Steenkamp applying the finishing touch.
It was a very scrappy, stop-start beginning to the second half with knock-ons and scrum resets aplenty chewing up the time.
In the 52nd minute, the Cheetahs dotted down with their first sniff of the second half. Scrum-half Tian Meyer's kick and chase forced Kotze in to making a terrible clearance which gifted the visitors a lineout five metres out, from which they set up the driving maul. The ball was recycled from there with Louis Fouche eventually touching down at the base of the post. Schoeman converted for a commanding 29-12 lead.
But a piece of individual brilliance from Specman soon afterwards got the Bulls back in to the game. The Blitzboks star found space on the overlap down the left wing, weighted his kick ahead expertly and collected brilliantly to complete the finish.
But the Blue Bulls had no answer to the Free State Cheetahs' driving maul, with Jasper Wiese going over at the back of another thunderous rolling maul on the hour mark as Schoeman added the two points from the tee for a 36-17 lead.
The visitors scored their sixth try five minutes before full-time when Darren Adonis dotted down on debut when he pounced on a loose kick and chase from the Blue Bulls and ran untouched for thirty metres to complete the finish.
But there would still be time for the Blue Bulls to score two consolation tries. First, Johan Grobbelaar scored off the back of a lineout driving maul and then Conrad van Vuuren finished off a flowing team try after the hooter.
Blue Bulls - Tries: Hendricks, Steenkamp, Specman, Grobbelaar, Van Vuuren. Con: libbok
Free State Cheetahs - Tries: Venter, Janse van Rensburg 2, Fouche, Wiese, Adonis. Cons: Schoeman 5. Pen: Schoeman.
Blue Bulls: 15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Tim Agaba, 7 Roelof Smit, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 Andries Ferreira, 4 Ruan Nortje, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Dylan Sage
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Louis Fouche, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tiaan Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Gerhard Olivier, 22 Dian Badenhorst, 23 Darren Adonis
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Stephan Geldenhuys, Christoper Allison
TMO: Joey Klaaste-Salmans