A brace of tries from Anidisa Nstila helped the Toyota Free State Cheetahs earn their first Carling Currie Cup victory with a hard-fought 35-31 (halftime 7-12) over the Phakisa Pumas at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday evening.
Man of the match flanker Nstila crossed twice in the space of seven minutes for the visitors shortly before the Pumas’ No 8, Willie Engelbrecht was shown a yellow card by referee Rasta Rashavenga for a dangerous shoulder charge on his opposite number.
Ntsila was joined on the scoresheet by left wing William Small-Smith, replacement hooker Louis van der Westhuizen and replacement utility back, Tian Meyer while Frans Steyn showed composure with the boot to slot five conversions despite missing an early penalty.
Composure with the boot was missed in the Pumas camp with flyhalf Devon Williams missing two conversions and two penalties which could have altered the match as the Pumas crossed for five tries of their own through hooker Simon Westraadt, lock Le Roux Roets, flanker Daniel Maartens, Engelbrecht and a late consolation from replacement prop AJ le Roux.
Williams did manage one conversion while his replacement, Ginter Smuts, slotted two efforts from two attempts.
The Pumas dominated the opening exchanges and deservedly led after 10 minutes as the hosts used their maul under wet conditions to good effect, with Westraadt controlling well to go over. But the visitors started to turn the tables and get into the game, taking control of possession and territory and were rewarded through Small-Smith as the left-winger received a flat pass close to the line to dive over and score. Steyn converted from a tight angle to give the Cheetahs a slender lead.
But despite taking control of the first half, the Cheetahs could not make their possession count as countless penalties and poor handling from both sides created a stop-start affair. The Pumas though struck, much against the run of play as a rare foray into the Cheetahs 22m area resulted in a penalty to the home side, which was taken quickly with Roets barging over.
The men from Bloemfontein were denied a try shortly before halftime as the TMO adjudged that prop Khuthuzani Mchunu had knocked the ball on which gave the Pumas a slender five-point lead heading into the break.
The second stanza began just as the first one had, with the Pumas dominating the opening exchanges. Just five minutes after the restart and the hosts powered their way to the line with another good maul with flanker Maartens going over. The Pumas extended their lead to 10 points as Williams missed his third attempt at the poles.
Williams had the chance to extend the lead a few minutes later but sent his second penalty attempt wide and it was at this point that the Pumas started to fall apart, conceding multiple penalties and gifting possession to the Cheetahs.
The visitors scored at almost every visit to their opponents 22m area with Nstila grabbing two tries, both from strong mauls after Steyn had kicked the resulting penalties to the corners. Worse was to come for the home side on the hour mark as Engelbrecht was sent to the bin for 10 minutes after shoulder charging his opposite number, Jeandre Rudolph.
With Engelbrecht off the field, the Cheetahs pounced and scored their bonus-point try through Van der Westhuizen after another powerful maul from the Free Staters. But Engelbrecht redeemed himself shortly after returning to the field of play, scoring his side’s fourth try, breaking through two tackles and scoring close to the uprights.
The Cheetahs would make the game safe with their fifth try of the night, as Meyer collected a loose offload from Aidon Davis to score but the Pumas, to their credit, did not give up on a losing bonus-point and scored through Le Roux after the hooter sounded.