PORT ELIZABETH – Centre Nico Lee scored a hat trick as the Cheetahs trounced the Southern Kings 45-21 in their PRO14 clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The visitors from Bloemfontein scored six tries to three, but while the final total may indicate a runaway victory, it wasn’t quite the case.
While the Cheetahs enjoyed a 24-7 lead at halftime, the Kings hit back with two tries in the second half to trail by just 10 points with as many minutes to go in the match.
But coach Rory Duncan’s men kept their composure, with Lee and replacement hooker Jacques du Toit crossing the whitewash to claim a bonus-point triumph.
It was one-way traffic for most of the first half, though. Star wing Makazole Mapimpi sparked the Cheetahs attack with a bustling early run, and soon afterwards, fullback Clayton Blommetjies wriggled his way through the flimsy Kings defence to open the scoring.
But in the eighth minute, his opposite number Yaw Penxe emulated his Cheetahs counterpart by slicing through to level the scores at 7-7, but that was as close as the Kings would get to the lead on the day.
Flyhalf Fred Zeilinga, who was chosen as the Man of the Match in his 50th game, kept the scoreboard ticking over with a 13th-minute penalty, and he ended up with seven successful goal-kicks.
At the end of the first quarter, hard-running midfielder Lee produced his first touchdown from a solid base at a five-metre scrum, and scrumhalf Shaun Venter darted over at the half-hour mark to hand the Cheetahs a commanding 24-7 advantage.
The free-for-all at the breakdowns ensured that it was a flowing game as both sides created a number of turnovers in the summer heat.
From one loose ball early in the second half, Mapimpi pulled off a spectacular no-look pass to put Lee away down the left for his second five-pointer, and it appeared as if the match was over as a contest at 31-7.
But a yellow card to Cheetahs lock Justin Basson for playing the ball on the ground a metre from his own line gave the Kings an opportunity to fight back, and flank Eital Bredenkamp took advantage of the situation to squeeze over in the 53rd minute.
The Kings managed to keep the Cheetahs at bay, and then scored their third try through reserve hooker Stephan Coetzee that brought them right back into the game at 31-21 behind with 10 minutes to go.
But the late Cheetahs flurry took them to 35 log points in Conference A, although they remained in third place behind leaders Glasgow Warriors (58) and Munster (43).
Southern Kings 21 – Tries: Yaw Penxe, Eital Bredenkamp, Stephan Coetzee. Conversions: Oliver Zono (3).
Cheetahs 45 – Tries: Clayton Blommetjies, Nico Lee (3), Shaun Venter, Jacques du Toit. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (6). Penalty: Zeilinga (1).
African News Agency (ANA)