Cheetahs and Bulls book Currie Cup final spots
October 17, 2009
Heinrich Brussow gets to grips with Ryan Kankowski © Getty Images
The Free State Cheetahs produced one of the upsets of the season to defeat last season's Currie Cup champions Natal Sharks 23-21 in a thriller at King's Park in Durban and book their place in the final of the tournament. They will face the Blue Bulls, who saw off Western Province.
A last-gasp drop-goal from Jacques-Louis Potgieter proved to be the difference for the Bloemfontein side, who have timed their run to the final perfectly.
The Cheetahs' Bulls-bound fly-half Potgieter slotted the opening points of the game with a penalty, but the home side soon found their straps to score the opening try. Fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez sparked the move, carrying the ball before releasing centre Adi Jacobs. Jacobs found wing Odwa Ndungane, whose kick through was followed up by the veteran Stefan Terblanche.
The visitors had the better of the forward exchanges but Potgieter's profligacy from the tee meant that the Sharks were able to protect their lead despite few incursions in to opposition territory. Another break by Hernandez provided their next points, with the Cheetahs forced to infringe on the floor. Ruan Pienaar slotted the penalty.
At 8-3 down the Cheetahs had reason to feel aggrieved after dominating much of the play, and it got no better for them before the break as Pienaar accepted an inside pass from Jacques Botes, set on his way by a JP Pietersen break, and strolled over for the Sharks' second try.
Hernandez started the second-half in style and slotted a cheeky drop-goal before Potgieter finally found his range to score his second penalty. The Cheetahs closed the gap further when prop WP Nel powered over to score despite the attention of several defenders and remarkably took the lead when Potgieter intercepted a wild pass from Hernandez and raced away to score.
With the conversion added the Cheetahs took the lead at 20-18. Pienaar reclaimed the lead with a penalty almost immediately and the two defences stood firm for almost 20 minutes of attritional play. With seconds left on the clock Potgieter slotted a drop-goal following a break from Lionel Mapoe, sending the Cheetahs in to the final.
In another thriller, Western Province fell at the final hurdle as a Morne Steyn penalty secured the Blue Bulls' place in the final. The men from Pretoria prevailed 21-19 in a high-pressure clash at Newlands.
Springbok fly-half Steyn kicked the winning points in the dying moments, giving the Bulls victory and the right to host the final at Loftus Versfeld. The kick was Steyn's seventh, as he once again punished any indiscipline from a Province side that played the more enterprising rugby throughout.
WP skipper Luke Watson will take up a contract with Guinness Premiership side Bath after the tournament and can be proud of his side's season despite a disappointing final chapter. Province wing Gio Aplon scored the only try of the game in the second-half, latching on to a grubber from Frikkie Welsh to secure a short-lived lead.
Steyn spoiled the party however, after he had slavaged a potentially disastrous opening for the Bulls by slotting four penalties for a 12-point lead after lock Bakkies Botha was yellow-carded for a first-minute elbow.
The Bulls now head home to Loftus, where they lifted the Super 14 trophy earlier this season.
Huw Richards rewinds to 1864 to mark the birth of Welsh rugby's first authentic star - Arthur Gould
Michael Cheika has succeeded in becoming the Wallabies coach under his own terms, writes Greg Growden
In the blink of an eye, a winger can go from a hero to villain. Hugh Godwin talks to Zac Guildford and David Strettle about life on the flank
Munster, No.8s, the imploding Australians, wonderful Glasgow and Lancaster's dilemma - it is Monday Maul time