Toyota Cheetahs v Chiefs, Saturday 5th April 2014, 3pm

1 - opening shot

Bloemfontein is a five hour drive from where Jen and I live in Gauteng and if I thought sensibly about it, it’s probably a bit too far to travel to for just an overnight stay. Thing is though, I’d seen that there was a First Division football game taking place on the Saturday, followed by a Premier league match on the Sunday.

What made it more attractive was that the First Division game was between the bottom two teams, Roses United and Blackburn Rovers, teams that when the inevitable relegation to the Second Division happens may as well have vanished from the face of the Earth.

With that in mind, we set off early for Bloemfontein. It wasn’t a particularly interesting drive, plenty of open spaces with not much going on in them. Jen spotted some giraffe in the distance but I saw nothing more exciting than the odd bit of roadkill.

After five hours of driving I’d had enough and the prospect of continuing on another half an hour to the Kaizer Sebothelo stadium at nearby Botshabelo held little appeal. Or more specifically driving there and then driving another half an hour back into town after the game held no appeal. It was time for Plan B, which was to check straight into our hotel and then walk the few hundred yards to the Free State Stadium for some Super Rugby instead.

Free State Stadium.

Free State Stadium.

The hotel that I’d booked us into advertised itself as being inside a zoo, with a view of elephants through the room windows. We didn’t see any of those, mainly because we had a big tree outside of our window blocking the view, but also because I don’t think there were any elephants.

We had a look through the window at the end of our corridor and were rewarded with some sort of nondescript bok with just the one horn. And I don‘t mean one horn like a unicorn, I mean one horn because the other had fallen off at some point.

The situation was redeemed by fighting squirrels. There were three of them, although I suspect just the one was the troublemaker. The hotel would have been better off advertising them rather than elephants as I was tempted to move to Plan C and just watch the squirrels scrap it out for the rest of the afternoon.

"Get into 'em"

“Get into ’em”

Good as the squirrels were, we set off for the rugby and after a walk through a shopping mall that seemed a lot further than the hotel had claimed, we arrived at the Free State Stadium. I asked at the ticket office for tickets in a drinking stand with shade. “No problem“ she said and promptly sold us two sixty rand seats in the sun.

Even with tickets, it wasn’t easy to get in and we were turned back at the first gate we tried on account of my camera. Apparently it was too big. I wouldn’t care, but it’s not some big professional effort. It’s not even a proper DSLR, it’s just a poxy bridge camera.

We politely accepted the decision and made our way along to the next gate where we avoided the bag search. There’s always a way around these little hurdles.

After discovering our shaded seats were in the sun we found an alternative spot in the shade and waited for the teams to emerge through a guard of honour provided by a dozen bikers. I bet the groundsman loved that. Maybe they could have farmers with their ploughs next week.

Ideal for the playing surface.

Ideal for the playing surface.

Anyway, with the game underway and a beer in my hand everything eventually felt right with the world. For those interested in the stadiums, this one was built in 1995 for the Rugby World Cup. It also staged half a dozen games at the 2010 football World Cup, including the game where Germany beat England 4-1. We were sat at the end where Lampard’s disallowed ‘goal‘ happened.

We were supposed to be sat in the stand to the left.

We were supposed to be sat in the stand to the left.

We’d seen the Chiefs the week before in Pretoria and they’d looked a decent side on that occasion. They struggled in the first half though  as the Cheetahs, who had never beaten the Chiefs, seemed to be able to score at will.

The game looked over at half-time with the home side 34-10 ahead.

A sole first-half try for the Chiefs.

A sole first-half try for the Chiefs.

It was a different story after the break as the visitors gradually clawed their way back into the game. At one stage the Chiefs had reduced the deficit to a single point before a couple of Cheetahs penalties gave the home side a seven point advantage.

The Cheetahs were still seven points up with just thirty seconds to go on their own line out. Instead of killing the ball and then booting it out once the hooter went, they somehow contrived to lose possession to the Chiefs who kept the ball alive for another three minutes before scoring under the posts.

The view towards the other end.

The view towards the other end.

The easy conversion gave the Chiefs their second last-ditch draw in a week and resulted in a stunned silence as the crowd left the stadium. We made our way back to the hotel where there were still no elephants and the squirrels seemed to have made up with each other.

 

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