Cape Town — The Cheetahs showed greater hunger and precision in outplaying the Blue Bulls in a comprehensive 39-10 semi-final victory to advance to next weekend’s Currie Cup final.
Over 15 000 spectators packed into the Free State Stadium and were royally entertained as their favourite team secured a date against either the Sharks or Pumas in next Saturday’s final in Bloemfontein.
Coach Hawies Fourie would’ve been delighted with the intensity shown by his players throughout, especially when tighthead prop Conraad van Vuuren was yellow-carded in the ninth minute for a cynical infringement at the breakdown close to the Cheetahs tryline.
But in what was a puzzling decision that was a portent of things to come, the Bulls opted to take a tap kick from the resultant five-metre penalty instead of a scrum against the seven-man Cheetahs pack, and the desperate home side’s defence scrambled to force a knock-on.
It was the energetic Cheetahs who were quicker out of the blocks as Johan Goosen took too long with his clearance kick in the third minute, which was charged-down by Reinhardt Fortuin, and the No 12 kept his composure to score.
Soon after that, Bulls fullback Goosen missed a penalty shot at goal, but later slotted another to reduce the deficit to 7-3.
Cheetahs veteran Ruan Pienaar then slotted a three-pointer of his own in the 22nd minute, and coupled with a determined defensive effort by the hosts, the Bulls battled to get back into the game.
Jake White’s team were denied a try in the 27th minute when a Chris Smith grubber off a five-metre lineout saw centres Harold Vorster and Stedman Gans diving to dot the ball down, but instead, they knocked it on.
That seemed to be the story of the Bulls’ afternoon, with their execution and decision-making letting them down in the red zone as they wasted a number of attacking opportunities.
After Pienaar’s second penalty, the Cheetahs took charge before halftime through a lovely set-piece move from a scrum inside the Bulls 22 as they attacked the blindside, with fullback Tapiwa Mafura sliding through Vorster’s tackle to score in the right-hand corner.
It was a long road back from 20-3 down at halftime for the Bulls, but they made a strong start to the second half by working their way into the Cheetahs 22 – only for yet another knock-on, this time by hooker Johan Grobbelaar, as well as an attacking lineout, to stop them in their tracks.
Cheetahs flyhalf Pienaar kept the scoreboard ticking over with his third penalty, but the Bulls kept their hopes alive when Grobbelaar barged over from a driving maul to make it 23-10.
The visitors then thought they had a second touchdown when replacement flank WJ Steenkamp charged down the left flank to score a sensational try, and Goosen’s conversion made it 26-17 – only for TMO Egon Seconds to ask referee Cwengile Jadezweni to have a look at the pass to Steenkamp from Smith, which the video replay showed was slightly forward.
Pienaar landed the knockout blow with his fifth and sixth penalties within three minutes, and the 88-Test Springbok received rapturous applause from the adoring Cheetahs fans when he went off with five minutes to go.
And just to finish things off in style, replacement back Evardi Boshoff dived over to score just short of the dead-ball line to underline the Cheetahs’ dominance.
On the evidence of this display, the Free Staters will be hard to beat in next Saturday’s final in what should be a capacity crowd in Bloemfontein.
Cheetahs 39 – Tries: Reinhardt Fortuin, Tapiwa Mafura, Evardi Boshoff. Conversion: Ruan Pienaar (2), Boshoff (1). Penalties: Pienaar (6).
Blue Bulls 10 – Try: Johan Grobbelaar. Conversion: Johan Goosen (1). Penalty: Goosen (1).