The Eastern Province Kings played their Round 7 fixture last Saturday against the Free State Cheetahs at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, in conditions that were somewhat foreign to the Friendly City.
More specifically, there was hardly a breath of wind.
The game started in a sloppy manner, though, with numerous handling errors and a missed penalty kick by the Cheetahs flyhalf Willie du Plessis in the first 15 minutes.
Cheetahs came out the starting quarter with a tentative 0-6 lead. It became evident that the Cheetahs’ defence were not there to count clouds as they continuously extinguished the Kings’ attacks.
Cheetahs’ Fullback Clayton Blommetjies worked a bit of magic off a 22m drop out by puncturing the oncoming Kings’ defence. With 10m to go, the receiver fumbled the pass.
Both teams back threes then went about airmailing the ball to each other as one up-and-under to the next was sent back and forth.
The game eased into a slightly more free-flowing style from both sides after a while, although Kings’ defence was struggling to keep Cheetahs from putting a foot in the door.
The match then took an abrupt turn for the next few minutes through go-forward ball and clean line-breaks by the hosts.
The first break came from Kings’ Flyhalf Gary van Aswegen off an 11-phase play, which was then fumbled tantalisingly close to the line.
Kings regained possession close on the halfway line, and some good hands and a short line-break was too much for the Cheetahs’ anxiety to handle, and the Kings’ attack came away with a penalty conversion through Van Aswegen.
A yellow card to Kings’ hooker Martin Ferreira helped Cheetahs win a lineout from 40m out and a strong driving maul gave a good foundation for a nine phase play leading to a converted try to Francois Venter.
Kings’ left wing Ntabeni Dukisa did not like the look of the scoreboard one bit.
He rectified the arrears by catching a wide fly-ball off a set-piece on his own 22m and proceeded to weave around his opposite number, evade a cross-cover tackle and side-step the last line of defence for a converted try under the poles.
The momentum was quickly snatched from the Kings as they failed to win two of their consecutive lineouts, with the Cheetahs going into the second half with a 10-16 lead.
It was a quick draw for the Cheetahs after coming out of the change rooms with a converted try by Pretorious after some nippy work around the ruck.
Needless to say, his stalwart performance was a tribute to his long Currie Cup career.
The Kings’ forward pack buckled slightly under pressure, and the game’s second yellow card went to Kings’ second-rower Darron Nell.
However Kings managed to claw back a try after eighth man Paul Schoeman muscled his way through three defenders and with an offload to Dukisa who then grey-hounded his way to his second try of the game to the right of the posts.
The game at this point could not be on more of a knife’s edge, as both teams were regaining plenty of possession and gaining metres in all methods, while the kicking ping-pong battles had subsided altogether.
The Cheetahs took hold of their opportunities more precisely than their hosts, and a converted try by du Plessis and wing Raymond Rhule pretty much sealed the fate of the game at 15-37.
Some consolation was found through Kings’ backline replacement Dwayne Jenner’s converted try to settle the score at 22-37.