Bloemfontein – The Free State Cheetahs secured a Currie Cup semifinal berth after beating the Blue Bulls 22-7 in their all-important encounter at the Free State Stadium on Saturday.
The hosts had only to score a single log point against the Bulls, but instead managed four that resulted in them cementing their place in the knock out stages. The Bulls had the odds against them and in the end it was all too much for them.
The hosts started at a frantic pace and put the Blue Bulls under pressure early on. The pressure was converted into penalties for the hosts, but fly half Elgar Watts struggled to kick at goal and six points were squandered.
It was Watts however who helped his side to the first points of the match when he broke through the Bulls' defence in the ninth minute to put his centre Robert Ebersohn under the uprights. Watts converted.
Watts kicked his third penalty attempt shortly after, as the Cheetahs succeeded in keeping the Bulls on the back foot. That gave the hosts a comfortable lead early on of ten points and left the visitors to regroup under the uprights. The visitors did succeed in launching a couple of good attacks, but they seldom progressed further than the Cheetahs 22 metre line.
The hosts were ferocious on attack in the first half and it reflected on the score board. The Cheetahs also succeeded in their attempts to counter the Bulls' driving mauls and on many occasions smothered any chance at points from that facet of play for the visitors.
The Bulls had the final say in the first half however, putting their first points on the board on the stroke of half time. Prop Marcel van der Merwe scored for the visitors after the Bulls tried on numerous times to breach the Cheetahs defensive line. Fly half Handré Pollard converted to give the Bulls more to smile about with the half time score 10-7 in the hosts favour.
The Bulls looked better when the second half commenced, but silly penalties again supplied the Cheetahs with enough attacking ball. The Bulls started struggling again, as shown when a silly little box kick by Bulls centre Jan Serfontein was intercepted and a try scored by Elgar Watts for the hosts. Watts converted to stretch his side's lead to ten points once again.
The Bulls tried to hit back, but they lacked any finesse on the attack. The Cheetahs were outstanding on defence, preventing the visitors from scoring.
Springbok hooker and Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss scored near the end to put the result beyond any doubt. That was after replacement prop Schalk van der Merwe was red carded for a spear tackle. The Bulls couldn't capitalise on the overlap however.
Points scorers: Free State Cheetahs 22 (10): Tries: Robert Ebersohn, Elgar Watts, Adriaan Strauss. Conversions: Elgar Watts (2). Penalty: Elgar Watts.
Blue Bulls 7 (7): Try: Marcel van der Merwe. Conversion: Handré Pollard. – Sapa