The Cheetahs bounced back from a slow start to overhaul the Kings 21-20 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday night.
In what is likely to be the final time either team contests a Super Rugby match (both are to be relegated from the competition), the Free State whipping boys rallied to beat the Kings, denying Port Elizabeth’s heroes from ending their best season in franchise history with a maiden three-win streak.
Tries from Clinton Swart and Raymond Rhule proved too much for the Kings who scored through Makazole Mapimpi, Wandile Mjekevu and Lubabalo Mtyanda.
Both teams were clearly eager to make a statement in their last Super Rugby game and due to this played with a lot of passion and emotion.
The game made for entertaining viewing as both sides opted to run the ball but it was also helter-skelter stuff as a lot of passes didn’t go to hand and as a result there were turnovers aplenty.
The Cheetahs were rewarded for their early dominance of the territory with a Fred Zeilinga penalty having earlier turned down kickable goals and opting for touch. This time, captain Francois Venter pointed to the posts and Zeilinga made no mistake.
Mapimpi got the game’s first try in the 20th minute. From a Kings’ attacking five-metre scrum, Schreuder decided to go blindside to the waiting Mapimpi who managed to power over the line despite the efforts of two Cheetahs defenders. Cronje converted to extend the lead to 7-3.
Five minutes before half-time, the Kings doubled their lead. From the five-metre attacking lineout, the Kings set up the driving maul which was brought down just short. From the ruck, Schreuder popped the ball inside to the onrushing Mjekevu, who broke through to dot down from close range after having run an excellent angle.
Soon after the resumption of the second half, the Kings scored their third try. Malcolm Jaer made the break in midfield and was eventually tackled. Cronje recycled the ball to Berton Klaasen whose nice pass set Mtyanda up through the gap with a free run to the try-line to dot down as the home side extended their lead to 17-3.
Zeilinga pulled a penalty back for the Free State side before Cronje responded with a penalty of his own. Finally, the Cheetahs got the try they were looking for. A tiring Kings defence were exposed out wide as Swart went over in the corner after the Cheetahs took the ball out left from an attacking scrum out on the right.
The Cheetahs then scored their second try in as many minutes. Francois Venter ran a superb line receiving from Clayton Blommetjies before his inside pass found Raymond Rhule who ran through to dot down. Niel Marais converted
Marais then gave the Cheetahs a one-point lead with a penalty from right in front after the Kings were penalised for going offside. And that’s how it remained as the Cheetahs completed a remarkable turnaround.
Tries: Mapimpi, Mjekevu, Mtyanda
Tries: Swart, Rhule
Pens: Zeilinga 2, Marais
Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Michael Willemse, 1 Mzamo Majola
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Irne Herbst/Mzwanele Zito, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Rudi van Rooyen, 22 Masixole Banda, 23 Waylon Murray/Yaw Penxe
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche
Replacements: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Chris Dry, 22 Ruan van Rensburg, 23 Niel Marais
Referee: Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)