The Toyota Cheetahs produced a masterclass of pressure play to claim their seventh Currie Cup title and dethrone the Airlink Pumas 25-17 in the final in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Cheetahs loose forwards, in particular, were rampant in an enthralling game as the home side outscored the Pumas three tries to one in what was eventually the telling difference between the sides.
It was a typical final where both teams were not willing to give an inch, it would come down to who handled the big moments better, and in this case it was the Cheetahs who shaded the play just a bit, with their defence and breakdown play giving them the edge in a close contest.
The Pumas weren’t humbled in any way, however, and kept fighting to the end. But in a stadium that was heavily orange, it was always going to be the inches that would go to the home team, and when it mattered they took control.
A note of praise as well should be for referee Cwengile Jadezweni, who handled the final exceptionally well, keeping a lid on emotions while allowing play to flow and his performance was a big part of the reason why the final lived up to expectations in the end.
The sides were always going to spar with each other, and it was always going to be close and this was confirmed in early play when both attacked out wide but never got the reward because of some exceptional defence.
Ruan Pienaar and Tinus de Beer were the only ones on the scoreboard after the opening 25 minutes before the dam wall finally broke and the Cheetahs took control. After pounding their way up to the Pumas line, a quick pass left found Reinhardt Fortuin in space and he just got the ball over the line ahead of the defence to score the opening try.
But the Pumas hit back four minutes later as a kick-pass found Andrew Kota on the wing and while he was covered by the defence, Ali Mgijima almost nonchalantly came around the corner and stole his way to the corner flag for the try.
The Cheetahs took the lead into halftime as a massive rolling maul marched 30 metres before the ball was telegraphed wide to winger Cohen Jasper,. who had enough gas to go in at the corner. Ruan Pienaar’s boot made it an 18-11 halftime score.
The Pumas clawed their way back early in the second half through the boot of De Beer, even though he seemed to be struggling with a knee strain, but just like that two more penalties and the Pumas were just a point behind.
The Cheetahs knew they needed something special to win the day, as the sides were just too closely matched all afternoon.
And in the end it was a bit of fortunate luck that gave them an opening. From a rolling maul, hooker Marnus van der Merwe lose the ball backwards, but was quick to scoop it up, giving just a moment’s hesitation to the defence.
Van der Merwe shifted the ball to Rewan Kruger, the nippy scrumhalf who was a thorn in the flesh of the visitors all afternoon and he had just enough space and pace to beat the tackle and go over to score.
Pienaar’s boot made it 25-17 and the Pumas became more desperate.
They had a moment late in the game to give themselves a chance when De Beer had a penalty within range to give them a chance of victory, but he pushed it wide and the Cheetahs held out.
And when Pienaar sent the ball into the stands to start the celebrations, it was just reward for Hawies Fourie’s side who had endured so much, but had found glory through determination.
Toyota Cheetahs - tries: Reinhardt Fortuin, Cohen Jasper, Rewan Kruger. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (2). Penalties: Pienaar (2).
Airlink Pumas - try: Ali Mgijima. Penalties: Tinus de Beer (4)