Free State Cheetahs flyhalf Niel Marais steered his team to their first Currie Cup title since 2007 at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday as he scored 21 points in their 36-16 victory against the Vodacom Blue Bulls in front of sell-out crowd of 43,401 spectators.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs’ victory not only earned them the title, it also ensured that they achieved a fairy-tale finish to the season, as they won all 10 of their matches. It’s only the third time in the professional era that a team finished the Currie Cup season unbeaten – the first was the Cell C Sharks in 1996 and the Xerox Golden Lions did it last year.
The Golden Lions, meanwhile, won the SA Rugby Under-19 and Under-21 Championship titles as they defeated Western Province 60-19 and 38-34 respectively.
In the Currie Cup Premier Division final – brought to you by Nashua and DirectAxis – both teams showed a willingness to retain possession and run hard on attack, while they supported this with a solid defensive effort. This paved the way for a riveting clash in which both sides came close to the tryline on a handful of occasions, but found themselves settling for penalty goals to accumulate points in the first 60 minutes.
The match opened up as the clock wound down, which saw the Toyota Free State Cheetahs score two tries and the Vodacom Blue Bulls one in the final quarter. But early on it was Marais who set the tone when he kicked six penalty goals in the first half, while his Vodacom Blue Bulls counterpart Tian Schoeman kicked three, as the home team took the lead by 18-9 at half-time.
Three of the hosts penalty goals were scored while the visitors were reduced to 14 men as winger Jamba Ulengo was sent to the sin-bin for a professional foul. Marais had another shot at goal shortly after play resumed in the second half, but his attempt was unsuccessful. He slotted his seventh penalty goal minutes later to increase their score and his personal tally to 21 points.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs’ innovative attacking play paid off soon after as fullback Clayton Blommetjies rounded off a fantastic team try following an intercept and exciting run by Sergeal Petersen, while replacement flyhalf Fred Zeilinga kicked the team’s eighth penalty goal to push them 31-9 ahead with 13 minutes left on the clock.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls hit back with a try by replacement scrumhalf Piet van Zyl to reduce the deficit on the scoreboard to 31-16. However, this was cancelled out soon after as Petersen dashed into space close to the touchline to score their second try and stretch their lead to 36-16, which proved to be the final score.
SA Rugby Under-21 Championship Final
In the SA Rugby U21 Championship, the Golden Lions and Western Province were involved in a tight tussle as both sides tried hard to make their presence felt on attack and put their bodies on the line on defence. This resulted in each team crossing the tryline only once in the first half and kicking two penalty goals. The successful conversion by the Johannesburg side, however, handed them a narrow 13-11 lead going into the break.
The second half was equally hard-fought as both teams found their rhythm on attack, which saw the Golden Lions score three tries to two by Western Province. The Lions’ final try, by their captain and centre Jarryd Sage, four minutes before the final whistle and an extra successful conversion by his midfield partner Shaun Reynolds, however, cancelled out an extra penalty goal by the Capetonians and secured the 38-34 victory for the side.
SA Rugby Under-19 Championship Final
The Golden Lions U19 team, meanwhile, were in fine form against Western Province as they applied pressure on attack from start to end, while they showed innovation on attack and supported this with impressive finishing for their 60-19 victory. So effective was the team’s attack, they ran in an impressive eight tries to only three by Cape side.
The match was particularly memorable for replacement back Michael Tambwe, who scored three of the team’s eight tries, and fullback Jeanluc Cilliers who slotted over seven conversions and two penalty goals for a personal total of 20 points.
Results and scorers:
Currie Cup Premier Division Final
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 36 (18) Vodacom Blue Bulls 16 (9)
Toyota Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty Goals: Fred Zeilinga, Niel Marais (7).
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Try: Piet van Zyl. Conversion: Joshua Stander. Penalty Goals: Tian Schoeman (3).
SA Rugby U21 Championship Final
Western Province 34 (11) Golden Lions 38 (13)
Western Province – Tries: Jacques Vermeulen, Justin Phillips, Sibahle Maxwane. Conversions: Grant Hermanus (2). Penalty Goals: Grant Hermanus (5).
Golden Lions – Tries: Curtis Jonas, Jarryd Sage, Kobus Engelbrecht, Marco Jansen van Vuren. Conversions: Shaun Reynolds (3). Penalty Goals: Shaun Reynolds (4).
SA Rugby U19 Championship Final
Western Province 19 (7) Golden Lions 60 (34)
Western Province – Tries: David Brits, Ernst van Rhyn, Juarno Augustus. Conversions: Adriaan van der Bank, Jondre Williams.
Golden Lions – Tries: Edwin Jansen, Hacjivah Dayimani, Michael Tambwe (3), Ruan Vermaak, Stean Pienaar, Tyreeq February. Conversions: Jeanluc Cilliers (7). Penalty Goals: Jeanluc Cilliers (2).-www.sarugby.co.za