At kick-off, the teams found themselves at the wrong end of the log, but after 80 minutes of breathless action, the hosts’ had eked out the narrowest of bonus-point wins that saw them move from sixth to fourth in the standings whilst leaving the Free Staters behind in last place.
Both sides spread the ball wide in perfect conditions, leading to a free-flowing and entertaining encounter that went down to the wire. The Toyota Cheetahs were in control at half-time, having scored four tries and let in just one to hold a 12-point lead.
However, the bench of DHL Western Province did their best Springbok “Bomb Squad” impression, providing game-changing impetus that led to three tries and a match-winning penalty by the ever-clutch Tim Swiel six minutes from full-time as John Dobson’s charges avenged the 38-21 loss they suffered in Bloemfontein in the sixth round.
It was DHL Western Province who struck first in the frenetic humdinger. A perfectly-weighted crosskick by Swiel, who finished with a personal haul of 20 points, found Juan de Jongh, who passed inside for Edwill van der Merwe, with the wing shifting the ball onto Sergeal Petersen for a converted try.
The Toyota Cheetahs had the perfect response from the restart, flyhalf Reinhardt Fortuin taking on the line and popping an offload to Jeandré Rudolph to run in. Captain Ruan Pienaar’s conversion made it 7-7 after eight minutes. Rudolph was pinged at a breakdown five minutes later and Swiel stepped up to slot his first penalty goal of the afternoon.
Another fantastic break and offload by Fortuin set up the Toyota Cheetahs’ second try. Good hands by Cohen Jasper saw the winger juggle but hang on to the ball to round off after fellow flyer Duncan Saal had delayed his pass. The latter departed in the 27th minute due to an arm injury and was replaced by veteran Tian Meyer, who usually operates at scrumhalf.
A Swiel penalty closed the gap to one before Nama Xaba was yellow-carded for cynical play at the breakdown after Champion of the Match Clayton Blommetjies and Pienaar had the hosts scrambling in defence. The Toyota Cheetahs mauled it up close to the line from a lineout and Rudolph found his way over for his brace. Pienaar’s conversion went over off the upright to make it 21-13.
DHL Western Province got good field position despite being a man down and a scrum penalty inside the visitors’ 22 gave Swiel a timely kick at goal, which he sent through the middle to claw three points back, but the Bloemfontein brigade had the final say of the half.
Clever interplay between Marnus van der Merwe and Pienaar at the front of the lineout had the hosts at sixes and sevens and quick ball out to the right-wing saw Meyer go over for the bonus-point try. Pienaar’s conversion gave the Toyota Cheetahs a 28-16 lead at the break.
Hawies Fourie’s men extended their lead to 15 two minutes into the second half through Pienaar, DHL Western Province blown up for not rolling away. The Toyota Cheetahs lost double try-scorer Rudolph two minutes later through injury as Dobson started to introduce fresh legs off the bench.
It did the trick as momentum swayed in the home team’s favour and after Neethling Fouche was held up over the line, fellow super-sub Evan Roos touched down, with Swiel adding the extras to make it 31-23 after 51 minutes. The visitors weathered another surge at their line and eventually worked their way up-field, where Pienaar kicked a second penalty goal.
Momentum remained with DHL Western Province, though, as the visitors coughed up the restart. De Jongh stabbed a grubber through, which Seabelo Senatla collected for a seven-pointer that put them right back in it at 34-30. The Toyota Cheetahs stuck to their guns and scored a scorching team try rounded off by replacement Chris Smit. Pienaar struck the upright and this time the ricochet was unkind, resulting in his first miss of the match.
The thrill-fest continued as the men in the hooped jerseys countered with excellent attacking play of their own, which resulted in another replacement going over in Godlen Masimla. Swiel’s conversion left the match on a knife’s edge at 39-37 with 10 minutes to play.
The accuracy and pressure of the hosts then paid ultimate dividends at Swiel slotted a penalty goal to snatch the lead and the home team held on to seal a stellar come-from-behind win.
DHL Western Province 40 (16) – Tries: Sergeal Petersen, Evan Roos, Seabelo Senatla, Godlen Masimla. Conversions: Tim Swiel (4). Penalty goals: Swiel (4).
Toyota Cheetahs 39 (28) – Tries: Jeandré Rudolph (2), Cohen Jasper, Tian Meyer, Chris Smit. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (4). Penalty goals: Pienaar (2).