The Free State Cheetahs booked a home semi-final – and a possible home final – with a stunning 38-33 come-from-behind win over Western Province in their final group stage clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The home side came from behind in the second half to claim a dramatic win and although Western Province pushed hard for the winning try, it was not to be.
Western Province made a dominant start to the game, playing deep in opposition territory and enjoying the majority of possession.
They looked to have scored the opening try early on, but Ruhan Nel lost the ball in the act of grounding it in the tryline.
A penalty from the resulting scrum saw SP Marais open the scoring and he went on to add three more penalties to give the visitors an early 12-0 advantage.
The opening try came from big tighthead prop Wilco Louw, who broke through the defensive line and then showed impressive pace to score under the poles.
The visitor got on the scoreboard soon afterwards as William Small-Smith scored in the corner after a wayward kick from Marais.
Western Province were then forced to absorb some pressure on defence and they did so well before scoring their second try. Following a strong maul from the forwards flyhalf Damian Willemse found some space in midfield before timing a perfect pass to fullback Dillyn Leyds.
The home side got their second try just before the break with hooker Jospeh Dweba going over, which meant that while both teams scored two tries in the first half, it was Western Province with a 26-12 lead at half-time.
Western Province struck first in the second half, but had to come from their own half before working themselves into position to strike. A cross-kick from Marais found hooker Scarra Ntubeni who finished like a wing out wide.
The Free State Cheetahs responded with two quick tries as wings Tian Meyer and Darren Adonis both got over to cut Western Province’s lead to 33-26 and secure the bonus point for their team.
The scores were level at 33-33 with 20 minutes left to play as replacement prop Ox Nche crossed for the fifth try for the home side.
The home side took the lead with a try from flank Jasper Wiese just eight minutes from the end and despite Western Province pushing hard for the win at the death it was not to be as the home side held out on their tryline.
For DHL Western Province:
Tries: Louw, Leyds, Ntubeni
Cons: Marais 3
Pens: Marais 4
For Toyota Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Small-Smith, Dweba, Meyer, Adonis, Nche, Wiese
Cons: Schoeman 4