The final round of the Pr14 regular season came to Port Elizabeth on Saturday 28 April when the Southern Kings took on the Cheetahs in an SA derby. The Cheetahs looked to come home with another victory over the Eastern Cape hosts, as the Kings have never managed to defeat their Free State counterparts in all competitions.
The Cheetahs came into the match also hopeful of a playoff spot, as they only needed to secure one log point against the hosts in order to qualify for the playoffs. The Kings, however, were hoping to spoil the visitors’ party by securing only their second win of the season.
The Cheetahs were the first to put points on the board, with an early penalty by Niel Marais within the first five minutes. The lead was short lived, however, as Ntabeni Dukisa finished off a counter attack, which started in the Kings’ own 22m, to touch down under the poles. Masixole Banda added the extras, taking the hosts to a 7-3 lead.
The Kings looked hungry, as they continued to dominate play, with a number of early chances, however the defence and desperation of the Cheetahs kept them out. The Kings eventually had to settle for three points, taken by Banda, after ten minutes of intense pressure on the visitors 22m.
The Kings slipped their discipline soon after the penalty, allowing the Cheetahs to capitalize on a 5m lineout to score, through Paul “Tier” Schoeman. Marais added the extras, and the scores were tied halfway through the first half.
The Cheetahs then lost their heads on their goal line, and Banda looked to go back in front when the Kings received a penalty right in front of the posts. With fifteen minutes left in the first half, the Kings led the visitors by 13-10.
The Cheetahs did not lie down, however, instead taking the lead for the first time in the match through Marais, who spun through tackle after tackle to score. He failed to convert his own try, with the kick coming off the uprights, leaving the score 13-15 with ten minutes left in the first half.
After some moments of confusion, the Cheetahs were awarded a scrum, 5m away from the goal line. The dominant Cheetahs pack pushed over the Kings’ line, allowing Uzair Cassiem to dot the ball over the line. Marais added the extra two points as the halftime whistle blew. The halftime score read 13-22 in favour of the visitors.
The Kings opened up scoring in the second half, after sustained pressure. After a brief TMO discussion surrounding the possibility of a forward pas, Harlon Klaasen was awarded his try, which was converted by Banda, closing the gap to just two points.
After a period of back and forth play, the Cheetahs managed to extend their lead back to 9 points. Francois Venter crashed over the line after a quick tap taken by Clayton Blommetjies, and Marais converted, taking the score to 20-29 the Bloemfontein side.
Both teams continued to look hungry on attack and solid on defence for the reaminder of the half, with neither team managing to cross the whitewash. Despite both teams putting together some promising attacking play, the finishing was lacking in the last 30 minutes. It looked as if the Cheetahs would grab the last try of the match, however they failed to hold onto the ball over the tryline, and the final whistle blew. The final score read 20-29 to the visitors.
After the match, Cheetah’s head coach, Rory Duncan was full of praise for the fight that the hosts showed. “We knew they were going to come out with a fight. I thought that the Kings managed the game very well,” said Duncan.
“There was a lot of pressure at the breakdowns and with the line speed, so you saw a lot of balls go down. What we’ll take out in terms of the playoffs is that the guys were a little frustrated, so I expect them to sort it out for next week,” said Duncan.
With the Cheetahs now qualifying for the playoffs next week, Duncan looked forward to the challenge. “We didn’t set sights on what we wanted to do this season. We wanted to take it one week at a time.” The Cheetahs will await the final scores from this weekend before finding out if they will be playing in Wales or Scotland for their playoff.
Deon Davids, the head coach of the Southern Kings, was happy with the start his side had. “I thought we started really well and were able to put the Cheetahs under pressure. I think this was a special performance,” said Davids.
“I felt that we might have lost the game in the scrums and that the cheetahs used their scrum as an offensive weapon, Davids said of the Cheetahs’ solid base.
Speaking about the season as a whole, Davids rued the number of injuries that plagued his side during the competition. “All the players that played tonight were the players that were available, the rest of the players were injured. This really tested our depth,” said Davids.
“If we want to go on to challenge for trophies, we need to build from the base… and ensure that you’ve got good depth. The competition showed that in certain places we need to improve our quality,” he added.
The Kings will now go on a well earned off season break, before re-gathering in Port Elizabeth in July to start preparations for the next season of Pro14 action.
Tries: Ntabeni Dukisa, Harlon Klaasen
Conversions: Masixole Banda x2
Penalties: Masixole Banda x2
Tries: Paul Schoeman, Niel Marais, Uzair Cassiem, Francois Venter
Conversions: Niel Marais x3
Penalties: Niel Marais