Eastern Cape - A brace for Free State XV skipper Tertius Daniller helped his team clinch a narrow 26-25 (half time 12-12) win over a courageous Border Bulldogs outfit in their Vodacom Cup match at the University of Fort Hare in Alice on Saturday.
The captain's first-half double saw the teams go into half time at level pegging, but a further two second-half tries gave the visitors some daylight, and, despite a late try by Bulldogs substitute Ernst Landendorf, the men from the Free State were able to scrape home by the narrowest of margins.
The bonus-point win sees Free State climb to fourth place on the South Section standings, while the gallant Bulldogs remain at the foot of the table with just one point to their credit.
Border were first to strike, as the home fans were left cheering a well-worked try by inside centre Niell Jacobs in just the second minute.
Flyhalf Karlo Aspelling was unsuccessful with the conversion, but when hooker Mkhafu Khwezilokusa crossed the whitewash in the 14th minute, he had the chance to make amends.
He made no mistake with his second conversion attempt, and the home side had made a dream start as they led 12-0.
Free State hit back in the 20th minute though, as Daniller scored his first after some efficient interplay.
Flyhalf Elgar Watts slotted the conversion, and it marked a shift of momentum in the game, as the impressive Daniller scored his second just 10 minutes later.
Watts missed the ensuing conversion, and with no further points recorded in the remaining minutes of the first half, the teams went into the interval with the game in the balance at 12-12.
Substitute Noel Marx was the man to break the deadlock in the second period, as he ran in a superb try under the posts to help the visitors to a 19-12 lead.
However, Aspelling kept his team right in the hunt, as his penalties in the 60th and 66th minute reduced the deficit to just a point.
The visitors began to turn the screw though, and with eight minutes remaining centre Joubert Engelbrecht struck the killer blow when he dotted down after some sustained pressure.
With Watts having left the field, winger Nico Scheepers had assumed the kicking duties, and he converted to take his team out to a crucial eight-point lead.
The brave Bulldogs showed no signs of giving up, and Landendorf gave the crowd some hope when he scored in the 76th minute. However, it proved to be in vain, as the full-time whistle sounded to end a hard-fought contest.
Scorers Border Bulldogs - Tries: Niell Jacobs, Mkhafu Khwezilokusa, Ernst Landendorf; Conversions: Karlo Aspelling (2); Penalties: Karlo Aspelling (2)
Toyota Free State XV - Tries: Tertius Daniller (2), Noel Marx, Joubert Engelbrecht; Conversions: Elgar Watts, Nico Scheepers (2)