Following a first round bye, the visitors were determined to start their Carling Currie Cup campaign on a high but ran into a spirited home side in what was a typically tough Central Derby for the first 50 minutes, before the Peacock Blues spread their wings.
With 13 players making their Carling Currie Cup debut for the Bloemfontein team due to COVID cases and injuries, including Springbok flank Jacques Potgieter, who featured prominently, teething problems were evident, particularly, a lack of finishing countless opportunities they created.
Hawies Fourie’s charges laid down the gauntlet with big hits in the opening five minutes but Tafel Lager Griquas would respond in kind. The hosts were outstanding on defence, even when they were down to 14 men when Hanru Sirgel was yellow carded for killing the ball in the red zone in the 26th minute, conceding just three points in the first half.
The Toyota Cheetahs stamped their authority on the lineouts from the onset with Rynier Bernardo snatching Janco Uys’ throw-in to set the tone. The Free Staters dominated at scrum time as well, winning three penalties in the first half alone, but were unable to capitalise.
It remained scoreless after an absorbing opening quarter, in which Tian Meyer limped off and Tafel Lager Griquas captain Stefan Ungerer copped a big hit, with both teams turning down a kickable penalty in search of seven points. The Peacock Blues’ bravado nearly backfired spectacularly as the visitors won a turnover from the driving maul and almost scored at the other end after a surging run by Duncan Saal.
A ruck infringement saw Tafel Lager Griquas’ George Whitehead line up a long kick at goal in the 22nd minute, but it was well wide. A barnstorming run by Ewald van der Westhuizen then had the Toyota Cheetahs in all sorts of trouble but Clayton Blommetjies saved the day by winning a vital breakdown penalty.
With Sirgel in the sin bin, a power scrum right in front of the uprights saw the Toyota Cheetahs finally open the scoring through a Ruan Pienaar penalty goal in the 28th minute. However, Tafel Lager Griquas were then rewarded for their gutsy defence when end-to-end play resulted in the opening try.
Andre Swarts provided the spark with a good inside pass to the ever-elusive Eduan Keyter, who drew the final man and sent Masixole Banda over. Whitehead kicked the conversion to give the hosts a hard-fought 7-3 lead at half-time despite having had just 37% possession.
Coming out firing in the second half, the Toyota Cheetahs quickly regained the lead with Gideon van Wyk having a clear run-in from a ruck after Tafel Lager Griquas had been stretched by good phase play. Pienaar’s conversion made it 10-7.
The lead changed hands for the last time in the 53rd minute courtesy of a piece of individual brilliance by Jay-Cee Nel, who beat three defenders with a rampaging run from a lineout. Whitehead’s conversion made it 14-10. The Toyota Cheetahs remained calm and regained momentum on attack, leading to a number of penalties, but again, opting not to take the points proved costly with Tafel Lager Griquas forcing the lineout drive into touch and exiting from there.
Scott Mathie’s men, in turn, grabbed their opportunity through their energetic replacement forwards, one of whom, Mzwanele Zito, made his presence felt as he powered over for a converted try from a pick and go. With the home team now in complete control, Whitehead stretched the lead to 24-10 before Man of the Match Keyter pounced with an intercept try in the 73rd minute to wrap up a bonus-point win.
Tafel Lager Griquas 31 (7) – Tries: Masixole Banda, Jay-Cee Nel, Mzwanele Zito, Eduan Keyter. Conversions: George Whitehead (4). Penalty goal: Whitehead.
Toyota Cheetahs 10 (3) – Try: Gideon van Wyk. Conversion: Ruan Pienaar. Penalty goal: Pienaar.