Cape Town - The Free State Cheetahs retained their unbeaten status in the Currie Cup when they claimed a 45-34 win over the Pumas at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Wednesday.As the scoreline suggests, this was a thrilling affair and the men from Bloemfontein eventually outscored the Pumas seven tries to five, with Malcolm Jaer leading the way with a brace.
An impressive first half performance set up the Cheetahs' win and tries from Jaer, Reniel Hugo, Makazole Mapimpi, Rayno Benjamin and Jacques du Toit gave them a 38-10 lead at half-time, with Ruwellyn Isbell crossing for the Pumas' only try during this period.
The visitors showed their intentions from the outset and although Justin van Staden gave the Pumas an early lead courtesy of a penalty, converted tries from Hugo, Mapimpi and Benjamin meant the Cheetahs held a comfortable 21-3 lead midway through the half.
Mapimpi's five-pointer was the best of the lot and after the ball went through several pairs of hands in the build-up, the flyer found himself in space just outside the Pumas' 22m area and he had outpaced the cover defence before crossing the whitewash.
The Pumas battled to build momentum and they were dealt a setback in the 29th minute when Jerome Pretorius was yellow carded for a deliberate knock on deep inside his half.
The Cheetahs made full use of their numerical advantage and shortly afterwards Du Toit barged over for their fourth try off the back of a lineout drive inside the Pumas' 22.
Jaer then crossed for two tries in quick succession which meant the visitors led 38-3 by the 38th minute but the Pumas struck back just before the break when Isbell beat a couple of defenders before scoring next to the posts.
The Pumas delivered a much improved effort after the interval and two close range tries from Kwhezi Mona meant they were back in the game by the 55th minute with the Cheetahs leading 38-22.
With the game in the bag, the visitors took their foot off the pedal but they extended their lead in the 67th minute when captain Niell Jordaan dotted down after gathering a pass from Shaun Venter.
The Pumas finished stronger, however, and tries from Frank Herne and Pretorius have them a sniff with five minutes left.
However just before full-time, Devon Williams was a yellow carded for a cynical foul close to his tryline - which helped the Cheetahs to hold on for the win.
The top-of-the-table Cheetahs are now unbeaten after three matches, while the Pumas sit bottom of the table with one win from four matches.
Tries: Ruwellyn Isbell, Khwezi Mona (2), Frank Herne, Jerome Pretorius
Conversions: Justin van Staden (3)
Penalty: Van Staden
Tries: Reniel Hugo, Makazole Mapimpi, Rayno Benjamin, Jacques du Toit, Malcolm Jaer (2), and Niell Jordaan
Conversions: Niel Marais (3), Clayton Blommetjies (2)
15 Devon Williams, 14 Jerome Pretorius, 13 Gerrit Smith, 12 Hennie Skorbinski, 11 Ruwellyn Isbell, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Lambert Groenewald, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Jeremy Jordaan, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Marko Janse van Rensburg, 1 Kwezi Mona
Substitutes: 16 Frank Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Cameron Lindsay, 19 Chris Cloete, 20 Reynier van Rooyen, 21 Kobus Marais, 22 Neil Maritz
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rosko Specman, 13 Williams Small-Smith, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Niell Jordaan (captain), 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Erich de Jager, 17 Joseph Dweba, 18 Rynier Bernardo, 19 Junior Pokomela, 20 Zee Mkhabela, 21 JW Jonker, 22 Malcolm Jaer