Cape Town — Free State Rugby has been through some dark times in the last four years, and the victory in the Currie Cup final on Saturday somewhat lessened the blow for the Cheetahs.
They took revenge over the Pumas, who knocked them out of the tournament in the semi-finals last year and prevented the Mbombela side from going back-to-back in the domestic tournament, winning 25-17 thanks to three tries and a solid defensive performance.
"I don't know if I brought the bad luck, but hopefully it changes after tonight," an elated Hawies Fourie, Free State Cheetahs coach, said after his team's win.
"In 2019 things went a bit against us. First, it was Covid, then we got kicked out of Pro Rugby — now the United Rugby Championship — all those things people know.
"But we were still fighting, and we have to thank Toyota for staying close to us and supporting the Cheetahs through these times. They never left us.
"Since that defeat last year (in the semis), we worked really hard, and we are seeing the dividends tonight."
Fourie said he was happy with the way his side never panicked, especially in the dying moments when the Pumas threw the kitchen sink at them. It's here where the defensive excellence from the home team came to the fore again after they had to defend for their lives for a brief period after halftime too.
"The senior guys made good decisions and kept the guys calm. Last year we made mistakes in the final 10 to 12 minutes and we lost the semi-finals. This year we kept our nerve and executed what we wanted to do well in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the game.
"That try of Cohen (Jasper, left wing) was important to get our noses in front, the focus was to take the lead. The Pumas are a dangerous team and they were ahead last weekend against the Sharks (in the semis). And the Sharks could not really recover.
"But I knew we were ready to close out the game."
Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse conceded that they were put under pressure by the rush defence of the Cheetahs, but at the end of the day, there had to be a loser.
He lamented his team's error rate that cost them penalties every time they looked to put a good attack together.
"We couldn't get the continuity, we couldn't get the go-forward ball. Maybe our discipline wasn't that good on the day, that killed us.
"Well done to the Cheetahs."