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The Free State Cheetahs held on to their unbeaten Currie Cup record in dramatic style when they beat the Golden Lions 37-29 on Thursday night.
The home team scored five tries to come away with a bonus point as well to extend their winning run to six in the Premier Division and move to 29 points at the top of the log.
Franco Smith’s Cheetahs made a spirited comeback in the second half after being 26-15 down at half-time as they produced three tries, a conversion and a penalty compared to a solitary three-pointer by the defending champions.
Tries by powerful inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg and hooker Robbie Coetzee within four minutes before the break saw the Lions gallop into a 26-8 lead after 35 minutes, with flyhalf Jaco van der Walt’s accuracy with the boot also accounting for three penalties.
But a crucial five-pointer just before half-time by lock Reniel Hugo, following a perfectly-weighted grubber by flyhalf Niel Marais, brought the Cheetahs back into the game at 26-15.
The Cheetahs forwards found their rhythm in the second half and took on the Lions pack with vigour, as they made metres up the middle and combined well on attack with the backs.
The key feature of the Bloemfontein team was their ability to keep the ball alive through offloads in the tackle, while hard-working loose forwards Paul Schoeman and Uzair Cassiem got the better of their Lions opponents, Kwagga Smith and Cyle Brink, at the breakdowns and at the tackle points.
The Cheetahs’ momentum saw Lions No 8 Fabian Booysen concede a yellow card in the 49th minute for playing the ball on the ground, and the home side took full advantage as scrumhalf Shaun Venter ran a good line off a five-metre scrum to score his team’s third try.
Just two minutes later, No 8 Neil Jordaan carried with purpose before offloading to centre Nico Lee, who put right wing Rayno Benjamin over. Marais slotted the conversion after missing a few earlier kicks to put the Cheetahs in the lead at 27-26, and the flyhalf added another penalty soon afterwards to extend the advantage to four.
Van der Walt closed the deficit to one again in the 66th minute, but the Cheetahs finished as the stronger team and deservedly clinched victory when replacement scrumhalf Tian Meyer darted over off a scrum in the final minute.
The Lions are now in danger of missing out on the semi-finals as they are fifth with 17 points.
Final Score Free State Cheetahs 37-29 Golden Lions
Free State Cheetahs
Tries: Raymond Rhule, Reniel Hugo, Shaun Venter, Rayno Benjamin, Tian Meyer
Conversions: Niel Marais (3)
Penalties: Niel Marais (2)
Tries: Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Robbie Coetzee
Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (2)
Penalties: Jaco van der Walt (4), Andries Coetzee (1)
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