The Toyota Free State Cheetahs swept their way to their fifth Currie Cup title with a comprehensive 36-16 victory over the Vodacom Blue Bulls at Toyota Park in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Franco Smith’s side produced another dominating performance to end their Currie Cup season unbeaten and bring the title back to Bloemfontein for the first time since 2007.
On a wave of exuberance and with an attacking style that will make them popular champions this year, Smith’s side shut down anything the Bulls could throw at them as they dominated the set-pieces, as well as territory and possession to underline their status as worthy domestic champions this year.
But while they also had finals jitters, and it was far from the demolition job they put on the Xerox Golden Lions in the semifinal, they had more than enough firepower to never really allow the Bulls to build any sort of momentum while making metres whenever they touched the ball.
And while the Bulls suffered heavily at the whistle of Jaco Peyper, they would have little complaints as they simply didn’t put up a performance that was worthy of a champion team, being outplayed in every aspect of the game.
While this was a more circumspect victory, it was built on the scoreboard through the boot of Niel Marais, who had so much good ball to play with that it made his job easier. The flyhalf kicked 21 points with the boot in an almost flawless display.
And with the Cheetahs' scrum domination – Charles Marais put Jacobie Adriaanse to the sword before Ox Nche appeared to do the same to Martin Dreyer – Marais was able to keep the scoreboard ticking, capitalising on the Bulls’ mistakes for a 18-9 first-half lead that could have, and should have been more.
The Bulls' defence worked well and kept the scoreline down, but their lineout faltered and they missed the towering figure of RG Snyman immensely, but they were simply overshadowed by a Cheetahs outfit that has been in form all season.
Uzair Cassiem and Paul Schoeman looked exceptional in the forward exchanges while Reniel Hugo stood head and shoulders above the forwards on the field.
INTERCEPT SEALS THE DEAL
But as they have done all season, the Cheetahs' best moments came from their exceptional broken field play, and the offloading ability they use to make yards upfield at any given moment.
Here it was the midfield combination of Nico Lee and Francois Venter who revelled on attack, while Clayton Blommetjies had probably his game of the season as he taunted the Bulls' defence with his running lines.
Marais kept ticking the boxes and kept the scoreline moving, and even though the Cheetahs failed to really capitalise on Jamba Ulengo’s yellow card, the penalty kicks kept ticking over, and the scoreline kept getting away from the Bulls.
The Bulls' best moment came when Burger Odendaal broke through and needed support, but failed to see Ulengo inside him, sending the ball to Piet van Zyl, who tried his best to evade Schoeman but was bundled out in the corner.
In the end it signified the Bulls’ day – even when they did something right, the Cheetahs simply had them covered.
Van Zyl found himself on the wrong side of the result as he threw the pass that would seal the game for the hosts – with Sergeal Petersen, who looked like a Bok certainty – intercepting and running 60 metres downfield, before Blommetjies settled the score in the other corner to finish any hopes the Bulls had of a comeback.
Van Zyl did score a consolation try as the clock ticked down to put the Bulls into double figures, but it was never going to be enough.
And when Fred Zeilinga broke through with six minutes to go, Petersen was next to him to finish off a move that would start a massive celebration in Bloemfontein as they tasted Currie Cup glory once again.
Smith’s side now will have their focus on bigger things – and will hope to carry this form into the Super Rugby season.
Those outside Bloemfontein will also be hoping he can inject the same enthusiasm into the Springboks when he joins them as assistant coach for the European tour.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs - Tries: Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen; Conversions: Fred Zeilinga; Penalties: Niel Marais (7), Zeilinga.
Vodacom Blue Bulls - Tries: Piet van Zyl; Conversions: Joshua Stander; Penalties: Tian Schoeman (3).