The Cheetahs secured their place in the Currie Cup next year by beating a 14-man Kings side 16-6 in a rainy Port Elizabeth on Friday.
It was not much of a spectacle. There were several factors - the continuing wet in Port Elizabeth and the poor handling in the match, a complacent Free State side in charge of a foregone conclusion, a determined Eastern Province side that ran out of energy as they had to make up for a man sent off. Falie Oelschig may well have spoilt the match all on his own.
After 32 minutes he was sent off for punching, doing his usual act of gestured innocence. The TMO was able to advise that he had indeed punched. The target was certainly Robert Ebersohn who emerged with a cut under his left eye. There was no direct evidence that that was the point of impact of Oelschig's punch, likely as it seemed.
The Eastern Province Kings were certainly a different team from the apologetic lot which was so outplayed in Bloemfontein. They were on top for much of the game - until Oelschig decided that he was more important than his team.
From then on the Kings' effort was largely confined to brave defence and here, too, they were a different side from the Bloemfontein lot, making ankles the targets of their zestful tackles.
Free State may well have had motivational problems with a lead of 39 points into the second leg and they were without Adriaan Strauss and then lost Marcel van der Merwe in a tackle early on. Off he went on the mobile stretcher.
Then on 30 minutes Philip van der Walt was helped off. But the Free State Cheetahs enjoyed much superior possession and territory and possession in the second half, managing only a solitary try from close quarters.
Two penalties in the first half gave the Kings a 6-0 lead at half-time. First Philip Snyman was penalised at a tackle. 3-0 after 4 minutes. Then Sarel Pretorius was offside. 6-0 after 30 minutes. Then Oelschig was red-carded.
Scott Mathie came on at scrumhalf but the seven-man pack took horrible strain in the scrums where they were penalised five times.
They began the half well enough. Two penalties had them hammering at the Free State line with captain Tiger Mangweni getting close but the attack was broken by a tackle penalty and then the Free State Cheetahs took over, slowly nudging up the score to victory.
When Rynier Bernardo tackled high, Nico Scheepers made it 6-3.
Carl Wegner had a clean break to set up a Cheetahs' attack. They were at the line when Pretorius managed the clever subterfuge of aiming left and then passing right to Sias Ebersohn who squeezed over in the corner. Scheepers converted from touch. 10-6 after 63 minutes.
Scheepers managed two more penalties, the second a long won. With two minutes to go Free State led 16-6, the final score.
Man of the Match: Sias Ebersohn at flyhalf. He may have missed two penalty attempts in the first half by the delightful variety of his play controlled the match.
For the EP Kings:
Pens: Whitehead 2
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Try: S Ebersohn
Pens: Scheepers 3
Red card: Oelschig (Foul play, 31 mins)
Eastern Province Kings: 15 Michael Killian, 14 Norman Nelson, 13 Paul Perez, 12 Siyabonga Mangweni, 11 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Devin Oosthuizen, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Conraad Britz, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Darron Nell (captain), 3 Andre Schlechter, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 David Bullbring, 19 Mpho Mbiyozo, 20 Scott Mathie, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Scott van Breda.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Philip Snyman, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Davon Raubenheimer, 6 Hendro Scholtz, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Hendrik Venter, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Barry Geel, 22 Nico Scheepers.
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Quintin Immelman, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Johann Meuwesen