Heidedal - Super-sub Philip Burger scored two tries, including one on the hooter, to give the Free State Cheetahs a remarkable 34-30 (half-time 12-17) come-from-behind victory over the SWD Eagles in a Vodacom Cup match played at the Clive Solomon Stadium in Heidedal outside Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Without the nippy Burger the Free Staters, who played as a bunch of individuals to start with, would almost certainly have lost this game. The blond flyer came on as a second-half substitute and intercepted in the 68th minute with his side trailing by eight points and the Eagles growing stronger as the match entered the closing stages.
Indeed, the visitors will be kicking themselves all the way back to George, after racking up an early 17-0 lead that they really should have protected.
Early tries from centre Wentsley Scott and lock Giant Mtyanda threatened to put the Eagles out of sight by halftime.
But the shell-shocked home side, who had to completely rearrange their backline after flyhalf Riaan Smit cried off in the eighth minute, bounced back admirably with two quick tries, to veteran centre Barry Geel, who had moved to flyhalf in Smit's absence, and lock Ockert van Zyl, to close the gap to just five points at the break.
Eagles centre Elric van Vuuren, who enjoyed a excellent day with the boot, kicking three conversions and three penalties, looked to have given his side the victory when he crashed through with five minutes left to give the Eagles a handy 30-22 lead.
But the Free Staters weren't to be denied. First winger Siphosethu Tom dived over in the left-hand corner in the 77th minute for the bonus-point try, but most in crowd thought this was little more than a consolation score.
But Burger had other plans, the former Perpignan wing taking the ball in space on halfway and then outpacing the closing cover defence to dive over in the same spot as Tom had minutes earlier.
With the match already won, Burger then made up for his missed conversion of Tom's score by slotting an identical kick with aplomb.
Scorers: Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Barry Geel, Ockert van Zyl, Philip Burger (2), Siphosethu Tom
Conversions: Marco Mason (2), Burger
Tries: Wentsley Scott, Grant le Roux, Elric van Vuuren
Conversions: Van Vuuren (3)
Penalties: Van Vuuren (3)