The Golden Lions, even if the final scoreline looked superficially close, must have felt they have been hit by an Orange-and-White tornado for at least 70 minutes as the Free State Cheetahs secured a sixth Currie Cup title with a 31-28 in Saturday evening’s final.
After the Lions held firm in the early stages, keeping the hosts to a 7-7 stalemate, the Cheetahs went into overdrive in the second quarter, scoring four tries in the first half to establish a 31-7 at the break.
In front of a large crowd of 38 858, it was a fitting farewell for Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith, who’s heading to Italy to become their head coach.
The Lions, however, made a brave surge in the final ten minutes to score three unanswered tries, leaving them ruing their waywardness.
Who was the star in this game?
It wasn’t difficult to name Cheetahs scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar. The 35-year-old Springbok veteran was in the zone as goalkicker, not missing any of his shots at goal. Some of them were tricky ones on the touchline. He was brilliant in cleaning quickly from the base to allow the outside backs some freedom, while also proving a nuisance on defence.
Key moments and themes
- While the Cheetahs hardly played a tighter, pragmatic game – in fact, they ran with relish – they did really well to feast on the Lions’ mistakes. Instead of trying too hard to force the pace, they allowed the visitors to dominate possession, but – sensing some inconsistency – waited for them to sabotage themselves and then pounce.
- The Free Staters won this match in a 12-minute period, where they crossed the line three times through wing William Small-Smith, fullback Clayton Blommetjies and lock Walt Steenkamp in the 38th to go. Pleasingly, the Steenkamp score showcased the hosts’ adaptability, where they focused on keeping their phases tighter.
- It could have even been worse for the Lions had a Cheetahs try by replacement flank Jasper Wiese not been disallowed just two minutes after the resumption. That score would’ve sent the Cheetahs into a 38-7 lead and killed off the Lions. But a knock-on was spotted after a TMO intervention. That slice of luck probably should’ve inspired the Lions, but they simply couldn’t find the type of coherency to turn pressure into points. It certainly raises questions over their game-management.
- The sin-binning of lock Sintu Manjezi for a professional foul seemed to put the Cheetahs to sleep, allowing the determined visitors to score three cheap tries. However, replacement scrumhalf Dillon Smit’s own yellow for a head butt and possible bite robbed the Lions of crucial seconds to launch an unlikely comeback. Flank James Venter’s second try came after the hooter.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Joseph Dweba, William Small-Smith, Clayton Blommetjies, Walt Steenkamp. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (4). Penalty: Pienaar.
Golden Lions – Tries: Wandi Simelane, Dillon Smit, James Venter (2). Conversions: Shaun Reynolds (4).