Cheetahs win Cup glory
REPORT: A record-breaking kicking display by Neil Marais ensured the Free State Cheetahs remained unbeaten and claimed the 2016 Currie Cup with a 36-16 victory over the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
It was a wonderful, exciting, lively, creative, intense Currie Cup Final - a great match and a great achievement for the Free State Cheetahs who were unbeaten in the Currie Cup this year and played a brand of rugby to delight the game. Only three tries were scored but that did not mean that it was a dull or conservative game. It was anything but.
Bloemfontein has few chances to boast but this time it really has a great chance to boast - the victory of the team and the way they achieved it, the packed Free State Stadium and the whole city's involvement in this occasion.
There were 43 400 in the ground. There were blue pockets but the dominant colour was orange - from little children decked in orange to portly men painted orange with cheetah spots. And as the time ran down and the victory became inevitable the orange seemed grow brighter and brighter, and the crowd sang Olé, Olé, Olé.
And when the game was over they were slow to go home, overcome with joy.
It was the Cheetahs 13th Final, their fourth win. It was their biggest win, surpassing the 33-16 of their first win in 1976 when they beat Western Province in Bloemfontein.
It was a warm day in Bloemfontein with ragged patches of cloud. The Harley Davidsons were there and revving. The national anthem was stirringly sung, four planes flew over with vapour trails and then a stern jet.
Tian Schoeman set excitement on the roll. Niel Hugo caught the ball and the Cheetahs ran. Raymond Rhule had a bust and then Clayton Blommetjies broke clean through but knocked on. The Blue Bulls picked up and ran from their own line. That took 90 exciting seconds. This was how the game was going to be.
The Cheetahs opened the score when Jamba Ulengo was penalised at a tackle and Niel Marais goaled, the first of the seven penalties he kicked, a new Currie Cup Final record. 3-0 after 3 minutes.
The Blue Bulls kicked off and Blommetjies ran from his own line but Nico Lee was penalised at a tackle and Schoeman goaled. 3-all after 5 minutes.
Rhule went on another run, a longer one this time, beating three Blue Bulls till Schoeman tackled him. Ulengo was penalised at the tackle and sent to the sin bin. 6-3 after 8 minutes.
The Cheetahs ran again from the kick-off and got into Blue Bull territory where Travis Ismaiel was offside. 9-3 after 11 minutes.
At this stage, the Blue Bulls had had only 9 percent of possession as the Cheetahs got the ball and kept it. The Blue Bulls threw into only one line-out in the first half and the first scrum came 18 minutes into the match.
When the Blue Bulls kicked off the Cheetahs ran again but this time Lee was offside and Schoeman goaled. 9-6 after 12 minutes.
While Ulengo was sitting out, Clayton Blommetjies twice grubbered down the right, making tries possible but instead, they had to be satisfied with a fourth penalty when Marvin Orie was offside. 12-6 after 17 minutes
A long penalty by Blommetjies put the ball out five metres from the Blue Bulls line but the Cheetahs lost the line-out. But when Jacobie Adriaanse was penalised at a collapsed scrums. Marais made it 15-6 after 25 minutes.
Each side kicked a penalty goal before half-time broke with the score 18-9 to the Cheetahs, who had had 72% of possession over the half.
Just after the start of the second half Marais did something unusual - he missed a penalty kick at goal. In the semifinal he kicked eight out of eight, which meant that this miss was his first after 14 successive successes.
Early on, too, the Blue Bulls started making changes, first swapping their props.
From a scrum in their 22, the Cheetahs worked an overlap for Sergeal Petersen. He raced downfield and kicked ahead. Travis Ismaiel saved for the Blue Bulls at his own goal-line and from there the Blue Bulls ran. Van Zyl kicked down into the Cheetahs' half and the Cheetahs ran from there with a scything break by Rhule who gave to Francois Venter who ran out of support but the Cheetahs were deep in the Blue Bulls' 22. They went right but Burger Odendaal intercepted and raced downfield with nobody in front of him. He raced but Petersen raced faster and caught Odendaal from behind, hanging onto an ankle. Odendaal got a pass away to Van Zyl who headed for the left corner but Niell Jordaan tackled him into touch two metres from the line.
It was that sort of match.
There was another bit of breath-holding when the Blue Bulls got the ball from a scrum five metres from their line. The pass deep into in-goal was wayward but Ismaiel got it and gave to Ulrich Beyers who gave it to Schoeman who was at his dead-ball line, and Schoeman cleared.
When Jason Jenkins was penalised for being offside, Marais kicked his seventh penalty. 21-9 after 52 minutes.
From the kick-off the Blue Bulls attacked. After Ulengo knocked on, the Cheetahs attacked. Jordaan had a run down the right and they went far lrft.
The Bulls were on the attack when the Cheetahs scored. Van Zyl passed inside but Petersen intercepted and raced downfield where Roelof Smit did brilliantly to stop him near the line.
The Cheetahs went wide left where smiling Blommetjies went over for the try in the corner. Fred Zeilinga converted from touch. 28-9 after 63 minutes and the suspicion grew that the Cheetahs were going to win.
Schoeman kicked the kick-off directly into touch, the Cheetahs attacked from the subsequent scrum, and Zeilinga goaled a penalty. 31-9 and the suspicion became a fact for many spectators who raised their Olé voices for all Bloemfontein to hear.
Schoeman then kicked a long penalty down for a line-out five metres from the Cheetahs' line, but they lost the line-out.
The Cheetahs then started an attack again and Rayno Benjamin was stopped out on the left.
Josh Stander replaced Schoeman and kicked two penalties to set the Blue Bulls onto the attack. They got close to the line where Van Zyl danced and dived to score a try which Stander converted. 31-16 with 6 minutes to play.
The Cheetahs were inside their own half when Zeilinga dummied and broke straight between two Blue Bulls. He sped downfield and, challenged, gave to Petersen who raced away in glee to score on the left. 36-16 with 4 minutes to play.
There was a scrum, the siren sounded and Zeilinga hoofed the ball into the crowd on the stand. There was great joy in the capital of old Orange Free State which was an independent Boer republic when the Currie Cup was first played.
Man of the Match: There were Cheetah candidates - Niel Hugo, Niell Jordaan, Shaun Venter and all the other backs, and there was our choice, Uzair Cassiem, a 26-year-old from the Strand who played for the Golden Lions, the Valke and the Pumas before going off to Bloemfontein and who was, as he has been throughout the season, tireless and courageous on defence and attack. At the end of the match, he struggled to walk for cramp.
Moment of the Match: It's hard to choose but we shall settle on the first Cheetahs' try which started with an abrupt change about when gleeful Sergeal Petersen intercepted and ended when gleeful Clayton Blommetjies score on the other side of the field.
Villain of the Match: Silly idea, for all these players played the game in the best of spirits. There was not even an angry glance. Poor Jamba Ulengo got a yellow card but probably still does not know why.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Blommetjies, Petersen
Pens: Marais 7, Zeilinga
For Blue Bulls:
Try: Van Zyl
Pens: Schoeman 3
Yellow card: Jamba Ulengo (Blue Bulls, professional foul - slowing down the ball, 8)
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Rayno Benjamin, 23 Conrad van Vuuren.
Blue Bulls: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha (captain), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 Bjorn Basson.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Marius Jonker