Durban — Like that Old Man River in the song about the Mississippi, Ruan Pienaar just keeps rolling on and at the ripe age of 39 he guided his beloved Free State Cheetahs safely through the rapids to a thrilling 25-17 Currie Cup final triumph over the persistent Pumas in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
Pienaar has been playing at flyhalf at the business end of this Currie Cup season because of an injury to Siya Masuku and he has been doing it so calmly and expertly that one wonders if the Springboks coaching staff are tempted to have a quiet word with him. What man to take to France — he covers 9, 10 and 15.
SEVENTH HEAVEN🏆🐆— The Currie Cup (@TheCurrieCup) June 24, 2023
Bloemfontein's chosen sons take their place in history as @CheetahsRugby win their seventh #CurrieCup title in front of a huge audience in Toyota Stadium 👏#WhereLegendsRise pic.twitter.com/YFayjBAViF
Without blowing too much smoke in Pienaar’s direction, he was the difference between the teams. He twice made big calls that resulted in tries that ultimately secured the title for his team.
The Cheetahs roared out of the blocks and five minutes of pressure culminated in Pienaar kicking the first points of the match. But as the adrenaline wore off, they started to get rattled as the Pumas ground away at them.
The Pumas forced mistakes at the back where the Cheetahs struggled to clear the ball. Penalties came the way of the visitors and in the 17th minute, Tinus de Beer goaled one of them to level the scores.
Pienaar struck back immediately, only for De Beer to equalise, and 6-6 after the first quarter was a fair refection of the game.
On the half-hour mark, the Cheetahs won a scrum penalty in the Pumas’ 22. Pienaar ignored the easy three points and kicked to the corner and his decision bore fruit when centre Reinhardt Fortuin dived over after the forwards had pounded away at the line.
But the Cheetahs made a schoolboy error when they chose to take a long lineout throw near their line, only to fumble it, and from the resulting pressure, it was the turn of the Pumas No 12, Ali Mgijima, to score.
They made up for it as halftime approached when wing Cohen Jasper profited handsomely when after a strong forward maul. Pienaar had flung a long pass out wide to the left wing, and he galloped to the corner.
The Pumas needed to arrest the momentum of the home team and they did just that with a De Beer penalty after two minutes of the second half, and he followed it up three minutes to make it a one-point game at 18-17.
Ten minutes into the half there was a key moment when Pienaar repeated his daring of the first half by turning down a kick at goal and opted for the corner, with the same reward. This time it was scrumhalf Rewan Kruger who darted blind from the maul to score.
Pienaar converted from the corner and at 25-17 the Pumas were at least two scores behind. The defending champions showed their mettle by doggedly hammering away but when De Beer missed an easy kick with five minutes to go, to bring his side within a converted try of winning, the game was up.
Cheetahs 25 — Tries: Reinhardt Fortuin, Cohen Jasper, Rewan Kruger. Penalties: Ruan Pienaar (2). Conversions: Pienaar (2).
Pumas 17 — Try: Ali Mgijima. Penalites: Tinus de Beer (4).