The Free State Cheetahs have retained their Currie Cup Premier Division status for next year after comfortably beating the South Western Districts Eagles 36-5 in a promotion-relegation match in Bloemfontein on Tuesday evening.
The Cheetahs were hardly pushed over the course of the 80 minutes and showed they are a far superior team to the winners of this year’s Currie Cup First Division.
Franco Smith’s team finished the Premier Division in seventh and last place without registering a win last month.
It must be remembered though the Free State team played on two fronts over the last few months – with the best players featuring in the PRO14 competition and the rest in the Currie Cup.
Having to split their resources did not help their cause, with former prop Daan Human taking charge of the Currie Cup side.
On Tuesday night, though, Smith pushed a near full-strength team into action and they showed their class throughout.
They dominated up front and won numerous scrum penalties to lead 19-0 at the break, and while the visitors from George improved in the second half and gave a good account of themselves, they were still outplayed.
In all, the Cheetahs scored six tries, two of them coming from centre William Small-Smith late on in the game, while flyhalf Louis Fouché, wing Sibahle Maxwane and fullback Tian Schoeman also crossed the tryline.
Referee Jaco Peyper, who handled the Currie Cup final at Newlands last weekend, also awarded the home team a first-half penalty try.
The Eagles’ only points came in the second half from replacement back Vuyo Mbotho, who did well to intercept and hang on to a pass by Cheetahs No 9 Rudy Paige and run in untouched.
The Cheetahs – Currie Cup champions as recently as 2016 and also winners in 2007, 2006 and 2005 – will be a relieved bunch after having to deal with their Super Rugby team getting dumped from the southern hemisphere competition last year.
The good news for Smith and Co is that the South African Rugby Union are now trying to ensure there is no further overlapping between the Currie Cup and the PRO14 competitions, which would ensure the Cheetahs can push their strongest team into both tournaments next year.
Cheetahs 36 – Tries: Penalty Try, Sibahle Maxwane, Tian Schoeman, Louis Fouché, William Small-Smith (2). Conversions: Fouché (2).
SWD Eagles 5 – Try: Vuyo Mbotho.@jacq_west