Shock victory for Cheetahs
The Cheetahs won only their second-ever Currie Cup title when they shocked the defending champions Blue Bulls 29-25 in a pulsating final played in front of a packed Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening.
The Bulls led 12-9 at half-time and 25-15 with nine minutes remaining, but tries by Bevin Fortuin and Meyer Bosman in the dying minutes handed the Bloemfontein-based outfit a thrilling victory.
The Cheetahs’ last win in the competition came way back in 1976 when they beat Western Province 33-16 in Bloemfontein and although they have always competed, the Free Staters’ next title remained elusive until Saturday.
It was a grinding victory on the back of immense pressure that forced the triple champions into countless mistakes throughout the match.
Early on, however, it was the Cheetahs who infringed three times inside their own territory to give Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn chances to put points on the board. He succeeded with two of the penalties for a 6-0 lead, but it was a nearly try by Bryan Habana in the 5th minute that had the capacity crowd on its feet.
The flying winger just failed to gather a superb through-kick by centre Wynand Olivier in the in-goal area.
The Cheetahs’ narrow escape seemed to give them added resolve and they swept up-field where Willem de Waal halved the deficit.
The visitors were far from overawed by the occasion, and aided by several skewed line kicks by Steyn, they started to dominate.
Two more De Waal penalties were just reward for the Cheetahs’ enterprising play—the second thanks to Os du Randt, on as a surprise replacement in the 25th minute.
But a Johan Roets drop goal in-between meant the teams remained deadlocked as the half-hour mark ticked by.
Roets was simply superb in the first half and his cool collection of a De Waal high ball set Habana away down the left touch line.
Eddie Fredericks, however, brilliantly cut his man down, although the tackle looked both high and dangerous.
The complexion of the game changed dramatically when four minutes from the half-time whistle, Springbok teammates Victor Matfield and Du Randt were ordered into the cooler for fighting.
The Bulls though were on the front foot and Steyn kicked his fourth penalty a minute later to give his team a narrow lead at the break.
Centre JP Nel then had a try correctly disallowed by the TV ref and he spurned another chance when a pass to Habana on his outside seemed certain to lead to the game’s first try.
But it was the Cheetahs who were taking the game to the Bulls, and as they spread the ball wide, a try seemed on the cards for the visitors only for Akona Ndungane to intercept and charge 70m to score under the poles. Steyn kicked the conversion and added a penalty to take the Bulls out to a 22-9 advantage.
De Waal’s fourth penalty kept his team in the hunt as they continued to feed off the Bulls’ errors.
The game deteriorated into a mire of off-the-ball incidents, cheap shots and all-in brawls. Habana then became the third man yellow-carded, which gave the visitors a glimmer of hope.
That glimmer became a blinding light as the visitors snatched two tries in as many minutes from the 71st to 73rd minutes to transform a 10 -point deficit into a four point lead—the first time the Cheetahs led in the entire match.—Sapa