The Free Staters entered the match knowing that a victory could earn them a home semi-final, but defeat may see them drop out of the top four completely, and they did not disappoint despite having to fight with everything they had a times.
Their favourable points’ difference over the other home semi-finalists, the Xerox Golden Lions, allowed them to secure the top spot on the log for a possible home final.
DHL Western Province took advantage of the Toyota Free State Cheetahs’ ill-discipline in the early stages of the encounter with SP Marais (winger) slotting over four penalty goals in the first 22 minutes for a 12-0 lead.
Both teams found their rhythm soon after and the tries followed, with Springbok prop Wilco Louw touching down first after a powerful burst through the defence, and Toyota Free State Cheetahs centre William Small-Smith followed minutes later after receiving a well-timed pass and beating a defender.
The visitors scored their second try through a another returning Springbok, Dillyn Leyds (fullback), in the dying minutes of the half after his national team-mate Damian Willemse (flyhalf) broke through the defence and off-loaded the ball, which pushed them into an encouraging 26-5 lead.
With the Toyota Free State Cheetahs eyeing a possible home semi-final, they showed their fighting spirit, and it paid off as their robust hooker Joseph Dweba ran a good angle to dot down the ball on the stroke of halftime to reduce their deficit to 26-12.
The visitors came out strongly in the second half, scoring their third try five minutes after play resumed compliments of Springbok hooker Scarra Ntubeni, who gathered a perfect cross-kick from Marais.
This, however, was cancelled out in the following minutes by a Toyota Free State Cheetahs hot-streak in which their left wing and captain Tian Meyer, Darren Adonis (winger) and Springbok prop Ox Nche scored tries to earn the hosts their bonus point and level the scores at 33-33 in the fourth quarter.
Meyer received a switch pass at pace, while Adonis dashed through on the edge of the field, and Nche used his strength to touch down despite being held up initially over the tryline.
DHL Western Province came close to breaking the deadlock, but they were denied a try due to a forward pass.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs, however, succeed in that quest in the following exchanges as Jasper Wiese scored their fourth try of the half thanks to great support play by Nche, who shoved him over the tryline, which saw them take a handy 38-33 lead.
DHL Western Province threw the kitchen sink at the hosts in the final minutes, but the tenacious defence proved too good and managed to shut them out.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 38 (12) – Tries: William Small-Smith, Joseph Dweba, Tian Meyer, Darren Adonis, Ox Nche, Jasper Wiese. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (4).
DHL Western Province 33 (26) - Tries: Wilco Louw, Dillyn Leyds, Scarra Ntubeni. Conversions: SP Marais (3). Penalty Goals: SP Marais (4).