The Sharks were made to sweat for their 33-29 win against Free State’s second-stringers in Bloemfontein on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
With the Cheetahs playing Munster in the Pro14 later in the day, Free State were forced to field what was effectively their Rugby Challenge team for this Currie Cup clash.
To their credit, the hosts put up a really good fight, and actually led 12-7 at one stage of the first half, but they were unable to deal with the Sharks’ driving maul, which produced three of their five tries.
The visitors signalled their attacking intent early on by putting two kickable penalties into touch. Dan du Preez barged over the tryline on the second occasion, but TV replays showed Gunther Janse van Vuuren had put a hand into touch during the previous phase. Eventually, though, the pressure told on the Free State defence, with Marius Louw putting Lwazi Mvovo away for a converted try in the 14th minute.
Surprisingly, though, it was Free State who dominated the next extended period of play. While Louis Fouché was off target with his first shot at goal and Ali Mgijima kicked the ball away close to the tryline after a run that saw him brush off Curwin Bosch, Fouché levelled the scores when – instead of kicking a penalty into touch as the Sharks expected him to do – he took a quick tap to score a try.
A strong Free State scrum then led to a second try, with Bosch failing to deal with a kick into the Sharks’ half. Lloyd Greeff got a boot to the ball, which was collected by Fouché, and he put Greeff away in the left-hand corner.
But the Sharks hit back with two tries from lineout driving mauls in the final five minutes of the half, through Chiliboy Ralepelle and Wian Vosloo, to take a 19-15 lead into the break.
It took the visitors just four minutes of the second half to score yet again from a lineout driving maul, with Ralepelle getting over for his second, but Free State refused to capitulate and a sustained period of pressure resulted in Fouché’s second try.
The Sharks finally gave themselves some breathing room with 13 minutes to go when a nine-phase attack was finished off by Dan du Preez. Bosch, who had been replaced by Aphelele Fassi at half-time only to come back on for Rob du Preez just before his side’s fifth try, slotted the conversion.
There was more drama to come, though, as Free State were awarded a late penalty try after the Sharks collapsed a driving maul close to the tryline and Khutha Mchunu was yellow-carded.
But the Sharks were able to finish the match deep inside Free State’s 22, and an unsuccessful drop-goal attempt by Bosch was followed by the final whistle.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Louis Fouché (2), Lloyd Greeff, penalty try. Conversions: Fouche (2). Penalty: Fouché.
Sharks – Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, Chiliboy Ralepelle (2), Wian Vosloo, Dan du Preez. Conversions: Robert du Preez (3), Curwin Bosch.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Adriaan Carelse, 14 Ali Mgijima, 13 Carel-Jan Coetzee, 12 Tersius Kruger, 11 Lloyd Greeff, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Rudy Paige (c), 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Gerhard Olivier, 6 Stephan Malan, 5 Dennis Visser, 4 Louis Conradie, 3 Gunther Janse van Vuuren, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Kevin Steven.
Subs: 16 Jannes Snyman, 17 Johan Kotze, 18 Luigi van Jaarsveld, 19 Abongile Nonkontwana, 20 Dian Badenhorst, 21 Vuyani Maqina, 22 Reinhart Erwee.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle (c), 1 Juan Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Khutha Mchunu, 18 Andrew Evans, 19 Luke Stringer, 20 Cameron Wright, 21 Johan Deysel, 22 Aphelele Fassi.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images