Cheetahs scrumhalf Shaun Venter was the Man of the Match against Griquas. Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp, BackpagePix

NELSPRUIT – They had some nervy moments in the last 10 minutes, but the Free State Cheetahs maintained their unbeaten start to the Currie Cup with a 45-34 victory over the Pumas in Nelspruit on Wednesday.

With three Currie Cup matches taking place on Women’s Day, the crowd came in support of women by wearing fancy outfits and matching the home side Pumas’ pink jerseys.

But it was the Cheetahs who blitzed the Pumas in the first half, running in no less than six tries to end the match as a contest.

Or so they thought, as they were to found out later…

Despite an early penalty by Pumas flyhalf Justin van Staden, the visitors dotted down for the first time when classy scrumhalf Shaun Venter – who was a thorn in the side of the opposition all day long – broke around a ruck to put lock Reniel Hugo over.

New Southern Kings recruit Makazole Mapimpi soon made his impact on the game as well. It was Cheetahs fullback Clayton Blommetjies who sparked a counter-attack and put Mapimpi into a gap, before William Small-Smith delivered the final pass to Mapimpi to round off.

About 10 minutes later the Cheetahs had their third. The Pumas defence were too spread out as they tried to cover the extreme pace provided by Mapimpi and Rosko Specman out wide, and they left yet another gaping hole for No 9 Venter to go through, with Rayno Benjamin scoring the five-pointer.

The Pumas had some success when they tried to take on the Cheetahs pack with carries at close quarters, but they couldn’t stop the tries, with Free State hooker Jacques du Toit and replacement fullback Malcolm Jaer dotting down three more times before the break.

Even a consolation try by Ruwellyn Isbell before halftime didn’t make much of a dent as the Cheetahs went into the change-room 38-10 ahead.

The home side, though, came back with renewed vigour after the break, with loosehead prop Khwezi Mona scoring twice to bring the Pumas back into the game at 38-22 with 25 minutes still left to play.

But just when they were trying to get closer to the visitors, the Pumas conceded again as Man-of-the-Match Shaun Venter darted past the breakdown area once more to set up loose forward Henco Venter for the seventh Cheetahs try.

The Pumas tried to hit back in the final 10 minutes with five-pointers by Frank Herne and Jerome Pretorius, but it was too late to catch up.

The Cheetahs almost ended the game in style, but Mapimpi placed the ball on his boot instead of the ground and lost the ball forward.

Points-Scorers

Pumas 34 – Tries: Ruwellyn Isbell, Khwezi Mona (2), Frank Herne, Jerome Pretorius. Conversions: Justin van Staden (3). Penalty: Van Staden (1).

Free State Cheetahs 45 – Tries: Reniel Hugo, Makazole Mapimpi, Rayno Benjamin, Jacques du Toit, Malcolm Jaer (2), Henco Venter. Conversions: Niel Marais (3), Clayton Blommetjies (2).

African News Agency (ANA)