Cape Town - The Free State XV edged out a game Border Bulldogs side 22-18 in their tight Currie Cup Qualification clash at the BCM Stadium in East London on Friday night.
A ferocious Free State defensive effort was the corner stone of their victory after the Bulldogs came at them time and time again, only to be driven back or stopped short and with just four points in it, it proved to be the difference.
The first half kicked off with Free State in the ascendancy and the Bulldogs conceding a few early penalties which led to a third minute yellow card to Border flank Nkosikhona Nofuma after the ref warned them of repeated early infringements.
Although Border initially did well with a man less, Free State eventually took advantage as they stole the ball from Border on the half way line and then built a patient multi-phase attack that stretched from the one side of the field to the next before they were eventually held up over the try line.
From the resultant 5m scrum Free State opened the scoring as eighth man Nardus Erasmus picked up off the base and powered his way over near the left hand corner.
Fullback Gerrie Labuschagne slotted a good conversion to put them 7-0 up after 10 minutes.
Three minutes later the Bulldogs had a chance to reduce the deficit after Free State were pinged at a ruck for not releasing the ball but fullback Masixole Banda missed the opportunity.
The Bulldogs emphatically responded however in the 19th minute as a poor Free State clearance allowed Border to counter attack from their own half with eighth man Athenkosi Manentsa making the initial break to the 22m before a fantastic inside offload to wing Siphosenkosi Nofemele saw him score under the posts, while Banda slotted the extras to even the scores.
The Bulldogs then took the lead in the 32nd minute after Free State survived a massive onslaught from Border after the home side won two tight heads and bashed away on the try line for a good five minutes before they decided to take the points after receiving a penalty in front.
Free State however hit straight back from the kick off as they kicked a penalty into the Bulldogs 22m and set up one of their massive driving mauls, only to be hauled down short with the ref awarding a penalty try.
Labuschagne's extras and a penalty from Banda on halftime meant the Bulldogs trailed 14-13 at halftime.
The second half was then a battle of attrition as the lead changed hands twice.
First the Bulldogs retook the lead in the 48th minute as a sublime cross kick in Free State's 22m saw the ball collected by Border wing Makazola Mapimpi with him then sprinting and going over in the left hand corner for an unconverted try.
Another massive Free State rolling maul 14 minutes later saw them march over the Bulldogs try line and hooker Niel Rautenbach dot down for an unconverted try to give Free State a tiny one point advantage.
The final nail in Border's coffin then came in the 71st minute as they did well to keep Free State from scoring a try, but conceded a penalty to the left of the polls which replacement back Ruan van Rensburg slotted to put Free State 22-18 up which they then held to the end of the match.
Free State Tries: Nardus Erasmus, Penalty Try, Jasper Wiese Conversions: Daren Barron (2) Penalty: Ruan van Rensburg
Border Bulldogs Tries: Siphosenkosi Nofemele, Makazola Mapimpi Conversion: Masixole Banda Penalties: Masixole Banda (2)