The Cheetahs won a close fought contest 38-31 against the Sunwolves at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein.
This was an entertaining, see-sawing game filled with width and tries – nine in total – as the teams slugged it out in “the city of roses”.
The Sunwolves claimed a losing bonus-point in the seven-point defeat and will rue some costly mistakes.
A quick-fire double from Kenki Fukuoka saw the Sunwolves go into the final 13 minutes with a slender one point lead.
But Ryno Benjamin’s try and Zeilinga’s third conversion in a game haul of 18 points, pulled the Cheetahs over the line.
An even first half saw both teams exchange leads on multiple occasions, sharing two tries apiece, separated by the extra three points off Fred Zeilinga’s boot as the home team led 20-17 after 40 minutes.
Many of the home crowd had not taken their seats were stunned into silence. The Sunwolves won the game’s opening kick-off and scored after 25 seconds through Shota Emi.
The visitors, confronted with a wall of Free State defenders found the only gap when the fullback found space from Derek Carpenter’s wide, flat pass, to give the Japanese a seven-point start.
The Cheetahs hit back when captain Torsten van Jaarsveld spotted an opening in the ruck. the hooker burst through the middle and ran unchallenged to tie the game at 7 all.
Zeilinga kicked a penalty to give the home team a three-point lead but it did not last.
Hayden Cripps took a flat ball, saw Oupa Mahoje and Niell Jordaan in his way, danced between them and scored beneath the posts with an outstretched arm; 14-10 after 31 minutes.
Zeilinga reduced the scores to a single point with a penalty and within minutes, the home team led 20-14 with Mahoje’s third try of the season.
Tian Meyer drifted infield from a ruck, sucked in Liaki Moli and gave a pop pass to the onrushing flanker. Mahoje went through Moli and Ed Quirk, raced clear into the 22 and beat Takaaki Nakazuru for the Cheetahs’ second try.
Cripps kicked a 40-metre penalty before halftime to cut the hosts’ lead to three.
The second stanza followed the same script; the Sunwolves kept pace with their hosts in the try department but could not make their opportunities count.
The Cheetahs scored 10 unanswered points to stretch the lead to 13 points. A try from Clinton Swart and Zeilinga’s penalty and conversion made it 30-17 with half an hour to play.
Carpenter’s line break in the opposition’s half led to Fukuoka’s first try. The centre was supported by Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, who rode a tackle and gave Willie Britz the ball. the No 8 drew a defender and released the winger.
The No 8 drew a defender and released the winger to give the Sunwolves hope of a recovery.
The fightback mounted into a comeback. A well-worked training ground move was all it took. he hooker throwing to the back of the set piece to Moli. The lock forward carried into the 22, took the tackle and offloaded an inside ball
Atsushi Sakate threw to the back of the lineout to Moli. The lock carried to the 22, took the tackle and offloaded an inside ball to Fukuoka. and just like that, they led by one after Taulag’s conversion made it 30-31 to the tourists.
The question and hard truths that have faced touring sides since the nineteenth century has always been the altitude. The final 20 minutes at 3,800 feet above sea level has been the bain of many teams.
And so it proved. On 66 minutes the Cheetahs had an attacking scrum to the left of the uprights. Meyer looked to his left but chose to go to the open side.
the scrumhalf then gave what is known as a “Sydney Harbour Bridge” pass, which floated over two players and reached Benjamin on the touchline.
The wing caught the pass and sprinted past Taulagi to give his side the winning score. The sun set on the Sunwolves who had no response and ran out of gas in the Free State altitude.
The final score is Cheetahs 38 (20) Sunwolves 31 (17)
Tries – Van Jaarsveldt, Mohoje, Swart, Benjamin
Pen – Zeilinga (4)
Con – Zeilinga (3)
Tries – Emi, Cripps, Fukuoka (2)
Pen – Cripps
Con – Cripps (2), Jamie-Jerry Taulagi (2)
Cards – Asahara (Yellow, 64th minute)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Ref 1: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Ref 2: Quinton Immelman
TMO: Johan Greef
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Zee Mkhabela, 13 Ryno Benjamin, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (c), 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Danie Mienie, 17 Elandre Huggett, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Henco Venter 21 Niel Marais, 22 Ali Mgijima, 23 Ruan van Rensburg
15 Shota Emi, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 William Tupou, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Cripps, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shumei Matsuhashi, 6 Ed Quirk, 5 Uwe Hela, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Shokei Kin, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Jumpei Ogura, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi
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