The Cheetahs beat the Blues 34-13 on Saturday to qualify for the play-offs for the first time in their history, reports JON CARDINELLI.
Prior to the 2013 season, the Cheetahs had never finished higher than 10th on the Super Rugby log. Thanks to this result they will, at the very least, finish in sixth place.
The Cheetahs received four points for Saturday's win and will receive a further four for next week's bye. They will finish the league stage with 54 log points, a total that cannot be surpassed by the teams in seventh place or lower.
The result marked the Blues' fifth successive loss. They will travel back to New Zealand knowing that their campaign is over from a play-off perspective.
They battled to get into the game in Bloemfontein and were fortunate that the Cheetahs failed to finish some early scoring opportunities. The hosts went to the break with a handy 19-10 lead, but had butchered several try-scoring chances.
It was thanks to Riaan Smit's accurate goal-kicking that the Cheetahs earned some reward during that first half. There were some encouraging moments when the Cheetahs' backs and forwards combined ominously, but their finishing left a lot to be desired.
While the Blues lacked discipline, they managed to stay in touch with the Cheetahs for much of the contest. Flyhalf Baden Kerr kicked an important penalty in the 58th minute to keep his side in the hunt.
Fortunately for the Cheetahs, Smit maintained his goal-kicking consistency and kept them in front. He finished the game with a personal tally of 19 points.
The game was in the balance until the 74th minute, when replacement scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius scored a try that put the victory beyond doubt. Boom Prinsloo then added a further try in the 79th minute.
The Cheetahs will now enjoy a two-week break before their play-off match, a period of recuperation they desperately need. Apart from the break for the June Tests, they have had only one bye in 19 weeks of Super Rugby.
That knockout game is likely to take place in Australasia, and so it's a good thing the Cheetahs will have that time to rest up before making the taxing journey east.
Cheetahs – Tries: Philip van der Walt, Sarel Pretorius, Boom Prinsloo. Conversions: Riaan Smit (2). Penalties: Smit (5).
Blues – Try: Jamison Gibson-Park. Conversion: Baden Kerr. Penalties: Kerr (2).
Cheetahs – 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Rynhardt Landman, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenraad Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Petrus Vermeulen, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 Rayno Benjamin.
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Wayne Ngaluafe, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 George Moala.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images
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