Rayno Benjamin bagged a hattrick as the Free State Cheetahs claimed a 52-10 bonus-point win over the Pumas to reclaim their place at the top of the Currie Cup log, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
The Cheetahs have been frontrunners from the start of the competition and only provisionally relinquished top spot in the standings to the Bulls following their earlier 48-26 bonus-point win over the Boland Cavaliers.
But the Bulls’ reign at the summit was brief, as the Cheetahs chalked up their seventh successive triumph to maintain their perfect winning record in the 2016 tournament.
Last week the Pumas had troubled Western Province for the best part of their contest at Newlands, and when they survived a sustained period of pressure in the opening five minutes which ended with an excellent piece of defence in the in-goal area at the Mbombela Stadium on Friday, it looked like the winless hosts would frustrate the Cheetahs in equal measure.
But that bit of defending and one powerful scrum that handed flyhalf Francois Brummer a shot at goal for the three-pointer, proved to be the exception rather than the rule for the Pumas.
The Cheetahs were full of running and had sealed the four-try bonus point in the 30th minute before driving home the advantage with four more tries against an almost non-existent Pumas defence. Benjamin, in particular, enjoyed a strong outing for the Cheetahs and opened the scoring when he fielded an inaccurate pass that flummoxed the Pumas tacklers.
There were four subsequent scores – by Paul Schoeman (two), Uzair Cassiem and captain Francois Venter – before Benjamin got on the scoresheet again. The winger did, however, assist Schoeman’s second try when he took a quick tap and hit a pin-point crosskick out wide to the unmarked flanker.
Benjamin completed his hat-trick with a quickfire brace after the interval as the Cheetahs continued to bamboozle the Pumas with their offloading game.
There was a small consolation for the Pumas in the form of hooker Frank Herne’s late score, but the Cheetahs, fittingly, had the final say with an eighth try to complete the rout and stay on course to emulate last year’s Golden Lions side, who finished the round-robin phase undefeated.
Pumas – Try: Frank Herne. Conversion: Heinrich Steyl. Penalty: Francois Brummer.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Rayno Benjamin (3), Uzair Cassiem, Paul Schoeman (2), Francois Venter, Elandre Huggett. Conversions: Niel Marais (6).
Pumas – 15 Heinrich Steyl, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 Hoffman Maritz, 12 Hennie Skorbinski, 11 JP Lewis, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Kevin Luiters, 8 Renaldo Bothma (c), 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu, 5 Jannie Stander, 4 Stephan Greef, 3 Louis Albertse, 2 Frank Herne, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Simon Westraadt, 17 De Jay Terblanche, 18 Jeremy Jordaan, 19 Carel Greeff, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Devon Williams, 22 Tyler Fisher.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 William Small-Smith.
Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images