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Cheetahs crowned 2016 Currie Cup champions


BLOEMFONTEIN, October 22 (ANA) – The unbeaten Free State Cheetahs crowned a memorable 2016 season by lifting the 2016 Currie Cup championship with a well-deserved 36-16 win over the Blue Bulls in the final at the Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, on Saturday.

The Cheetahs flyhalf Niel Marais provided the sheet anchor for the victory with a 21-point contribution via seven penalties which allowed his side to lead from start to finish. His prolific boot meant that the Bulls were left chasing the game all afternoon.

The Cheetahs had the lion’s share of possession in the opening 15 minutes when they were full of running, even from deep options. Fullback Clayton Blommetjies and leftwing Raymond Rhule provided the sparks on attack and the pressure they created forced the Bulls to concede penalties. They were also a man down in the 7th minute when their leftwing Jamba Ulengo was yellow carded.

Marais, the Cheetahs’ sharp-shooter rifled three penalties through the posts and his opposite number Tian Schoeman was on target with two when the Bulls managed to take play into the Cheetahs half (9-6).

Midway through the first half, Marais advanced the Cheetahs’ lead to 15-6 with two penalties in quick succession as his teammates continued to hold the upper hand to the extent that the Bulls were forced to settle for a largely defensive role.

Ten minutes ahead of the halftime break, the Bulls were able to shake off the pressure and transfer play into the Cheetahs’ half where the won a tighthead. Soon afterwards the Cheetahs’ backline were blown up for offside by referee Jaco Peyper and Schoeman reduced the deficit with a 30m penalty (15-9).

Just ahead of halftime, the Cheetahs’ efforts to score a try was thwarted by the lack of support for the players in possession and handling errors in the form of knock-ons and forward passes but they won a scrum penalty which Marais converted in the final first-half minute to double his side’s lead (18-9).

Uncharacteristically, Marais fluffed a goalable penalty in the opening minute when play resumed and the Bulls responded to the let-off with a promising attack which broke down on the Cheetahs’ 22m line.

The Cheetahs stormed back into the picture with a wave of attacks which the resilient Bulls defence absorbed but they surrendered a penalty which Marais with a seventh successful strike for a 21-9 lead in the 53rd minute.

Given the Cheetahs’ vice-like grip on the game up to this stage, this 12-point lead might have been the cue for the home crowd of 43, 400 fans that the championship was in the bag even with some 20 minutes’ playing time left.

And if there was still any doubt about the final outcome, Cheetahs rightwing Sergeal Petersen secured an interception and then staged a break-out in scintillating style in the 62nd minute. Once he was stopped the Cheetahs relayed the ball out wide to Blommetjies who scored the opening try of the final. Substitute Fred Zeilinga converted for a 28-9 lead, and four minutes later he added to the Cheetahs’ woes with a penalty (31-9).

Bulls substitute Piet van Zyl scored a consolation try in the 74th minute and another substitute Joshua Stander stepped up with a conversion (31-16).

But three minutes later, flyer Petersen, one of the stars on the day, romped in for the final score with an unconverted try as the crowd burst into song (36-16).

Scorers: Free State Cheetahs 36 (18): Try: Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalties: Niel Marais (7), Zeilinga.
Blue Bulls 16 (9): Try: Piet van Zyl. Conversion: Joshua Stander. Penalties: Tian Schoeman (3) – African News Agency (ANA)