The Cheetahs consolidated their position at the top of the Currie Cup standings as they clinched a hard-fought 26-21 win over Western Province in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
Entering this encounter, the table-topping Cheetahs were heavy favourites against fifth-placed Western Province, and initially it looked to be going to script when centre Reinhardt Fortuin finished off an opportunistic try early on.
However, Province grew into the game, and responded with two quickfire tries to Damian Markus and Jarrod Taylor, with the latter scoring after a sequence of superb offloading.
That served as a real confidence-booster for the visitors, and yet it was from a turnover ball that the Cheetahs then scored the try of the half. With Province on the attack, Siba Qomo snapped up possession and sprinted over 60m before offloading to Ruan Pienaar, who ran in unopposed for a crucial runaway try.
That drew the scores level just before the break, but Province would have the final say of the half as wing Luke Burger burst through a tackle before cruising over the tryline as WP took a handy seven-point lead into the interval.
With the visiting team enjoying 56 per cent of possession and territory in the opening stanza, there could be no arguing with the merits of the scoreline, but many will remember that when the two sides met back in April, the Cheetahs managed to come from behind to overcome WP.
With that in mind, the warning signs would have been flashing for Province when, soon after the restart, the Cheetahs took a quick tap from within their own 22 and executed another brilliant long-range try eventually finished off by Daniel Maartens.
Soon after, the Cheetahs looked to have gone into the lead when Daniel Kasende dotted down in the corner, but the five-pointer was ultimately ruled out after the TMO spotted an act of foul play in the build-up.
As a result, the score remained deadlock at 21-21 heading into the final 10 minutes, with WP fullback Clayton Blommetjies having also missed two penalties during a tense second half.
Most of the momentum was with the Cheetahs, though, and in the final 10 minutes Western Province saw two substitutes Chad Solomon and Adre Smith yellow-carded.
In their absence, the gallant Province defence eventually cracked as Cheetahs wing Munier Hartzenberg finished off the team’s fourth try in the 77th minute, which effectively sealed the comeback bonus-point win.
Cheetahs - Tries: Reinhardt Fortuin, Ruan Pienaar, Daniel Maartens, Munier Hartzenberg. Conversions: Pienaar (3).
Western Province - Tries: Damian Markus, Jarrod Taylor, Luke Burger. Conversions: Clayton Blommetjies (3).