Johannesburg - Although there was little doubt that the Cheetahs would retain their Currie Cup status, captain Robert Ebersohn admits that he is relieved.
The Cheetahs needed only one log point in the second of two promotion/relegation games in Port Elizabeth on Friday, but weathered the storm against a motivated Eastern Province Kings side and scored four points for their victory of 16-6.
Trailing by 6-0 for most of the game, the visitors got the upper hand in the 60th minute, but their performance was far from convincing, and Ebersohn admitted afterwards that the Kings had posed a very real threat.
"We did well in the first game in Bloemfontein, but we also knew that the Kings would throw everything at us. And in the second game they did," said Ebersohn, who took over the captaincy after the late withdrawal of Adriaan Strauss.
Unforced errors and some good defence in wet conditions by the Kings prevented the Cheetahs from playing their normal brand of rugby, with game breakers like winger Raymond Rhule just never making any impact. But Ebersohn commended his charges for staying calm and coming through in the last quarter.
"We came up against some good defence, while the wet conditions made playing running rugby very difficult. But the guys did well to keep their cool and eventually the points came. We are very happy with the outcome," Ebersohn added.
The Kings will take nothing more from the game than a better performance than last week. They defended well, showed promise on the attack and looked like a team that could surprise their competitors as the Southern Kings franchise in next year's Super Rugby competition.
"We saw in the second game that we gave the Cheetahs too much respect in the first round. We played well and although disappointed in the result, we proved that we can hold our own against tough competition," Kings captain Tiger Mangweni said afterwards.
Playing with 14 men after scrum half Noel Oelschig was red carded for punching Ebersohn in the face, the challenge was always to prevent leaking tries on the defence.
"It was hard defending with only 14 men, but we never backed down. It was our plan from the beginning to play in their half and we did that very well. We just couldn't hang on for the victory," Mangweni added. Sapa