It was scenes of joy and jubilation erupted at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening as the Toyota Free State Cheetahs were crowned Currie Cup champions for a sixth time after beating the Golden Lions 31-28.
The Cheetahs were simply brilliant in the first half, and then put in a tremendous defensive effort in the second half to hold off a late Lions surge to win the final in front of a near capacity crowd.
The excitement had been mounting in the City of Roses for the entire week and on match-day it reached fever pitch, and arguably one of the most exhilarating moments was just before kick-off, when the crowd were in full voice for an amazing rendition of the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, which was accompanied by an SA Airlink Embraer 190 flown by Jaco Henning and Dewald Potgieter doing the first of two low passes over the Stadium.
In the match itself, the Cheetahs raced to a 31-7 lead at the half time break thanks to tries by Joseph Dweba, William Small-Smith, and Walt Steenkamp, while Ruan Pienaar was superb from the kicking tee with four successful conversions and a penalty.
The second forty minutes was a stark contrast to the first half, and the Cheetahs were forced to defend a lot more, and eventually the defence cracked in the last 10 minutes, albeit that the hosts were also a man down with a player in the sin-bin.
This led to the replacement scrumhalf, Dillion Smit, darting over for a try by the Lions. This put even more pressure on the Cheetahs, however, even a brace of tries by the replacement flank, James Venter, was too little, too late for the visitors from Johannesburg.
Taking into account that less than a year ago the Cheetahs were fighting survival in the Currie Cup after being forced into promotion-relegation match, their feat this season is nothing short of amazing.
The victory will give the Cheetahs a tremendous amount of confidence heading into the Guinness PRO14 which kicks off in Bloemfontein on 27 September when they host the Glasgow Warriors in the opening match. – MORGAN PIEK