Flyhalf Ruan Pienaar rolled back the years, kicking 10 points to help the Cheetahs clinch a pulsating Currie Cup final against the defending champion Pumas at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday night.
Leading 18-11 at half time, the Cheetahs dug deep in the second half to repel a spirited Pumas fightback, holding on for a 25-17 win to claim their first Currie Cup title since 2019. The result marks the seventh time Free State have been crowned champions in the competition’s history.
It was a tight first half as both teams manoeuvered for a territorial advantage. Pienaar and Pumas counterpart Tinus de Beer traded penalties to make it 6-6 at the end of the first quarter.
The inside centres hogged the spotlight in the second quarter. The Cheetahs were first to cross the whitewash with an unconverted try in the left corner from Reinhardt Fortuin before the Pumas hit back through Ali Mgijima, De Beer failing to convert from the right touchline.
Minutes before the break. the hosts struck again as the backline produced some razzle dazzle to send winger Cohen Jasper over in the corner with Pienaar slotting a beauty for a seven-point advantage at the break.
The second half was a low-scoring affair, with both sides opting for territory instead of expansive rugby. De Beer chipped away at the Cheetahs’ advantage with two penalties after the restart, but the hosts stretched their lead to eight when scrumhalf Rewan Kruger sniped from a ruck to find his way over the line much to the delight of the 34,000-strong crowd. Pienaar made no mistake off the kicking tee.
The Pumas tried valiantly to come back into the game but when De Beer faded a crucial penalty in the dying minutes, the Cheetahs defence stood resolute to close out a classic Currie Cup final.
— The Currie Cup (@TheCurrieCup) June 24, 2023
Photo: Charle Lombard/BackpagePix