Junior Pokomela scored a brace as the Cheetahs claimed a riveting 51-30 win over the Sharks to book their place in the final of the 2019 Currie Cup. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
With the result the Free State Cheetahs will host the Golden Lions in the Currie Cup final in Bloemfontein next Saturday.
The Cheetahs – for all their might in round-robin stage of the competition – just couldn’t get going properly in the first half of this all-important knockout clash. By contrast, the Sharks demonstrated ruthlessness in their execution. But in a complete reverse of fortunes in the second half, the Cheetahs found their rhythm to run the Sharks off their feet and ultimately out of the competition.
The turn in fortunes also perfectly summarises the changes these sides have undergone this past year. To such an extent that the Cheetahs – last season’s wooden-spoonists – have now eliminated the Sharks – last season’s champions – to ensure the Currie Cup has new title holders in 2019.
The Cheetahs trailed 23-11 early after the break, but overturned the 12-point deficit with a late flurry of tries to ultimately clinch a runaway win.
There was no lack of attacking ambition from either side in the first half, but it would be the Sharks who edged ahead on the scoreboard after running in three tries, thanks primarily to the outstanding playmaking of fullback Aphelele Fassi.
The fullback notched up two try assists when he set up Curwin Bosch and Lwazi Mvovo, while lively scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba dived after rather fortuitously claiming possession when the ball squirted loose.
The Cheetahs’ try came when Junior Pokomela took a lofted pass from veteran scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar and stepped inside to shrug off Kobus van Wyk’s feeble tackle attempt. But the Cheetahs will bemoan wasting several other opportunities that would have given them the lead or at least edged them closer on the scoreboard at the midway mark.
The Sharks were dealt a massive blow when Fassi was forced to exit the contest due to an injury and from thereon in, their attack appeared to fall flat. The second half in general was much more abrasive and physical. But while the Cheetahs were made to play second fiddle at the scrum and lineout, they dominated the breakdown and tackle area to not only work their way back into the contest, but to hit the front against the odds.
Despite a poor first-half showing, Clayton Blommetjies came out firing in the second to play a similar role for the Cheetahs as Fassi had done for the Sharks earlier. Bosch knocked over another penalty, but Cheetahs ran in three consecutive tries, scored by William Small-Smith, the influential Pienaar and Joseph Dweba. The last two came as a direct result of scintillating linebreaks by Blommetjies.
Going behind didn’t sit well with the Sharks and they hit back when Bosch flummoxed the defence for a self-converted effort to level the scores once again. But their joy would be shortlived, as a late flurry of tries pushed the Cheetahs out to an unassailable lead.
Cheetahs – Tries: Junior Pokomela (2), William Small-Smith, Ruan Pienaar, Joseph Dweba, Ox Nche, Jasper Wiese. Conversions: Tian Schoeman, Pienaar (3). Penalties: Schoeman (2).
Sharks – Tries: Curwin Bosch (2), Sanele Nohamba, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Bosch (2). Penalty: Bosch (2).
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Tian Meyer (c), 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Erich de Jager, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Schalk van der Merwe, 18 Reinach Venter, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Gerhard Olivier, 21 Jasper Wiese, 22 Darren Adonis, 23 Louis Fouche.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jeremy Ward (c-c), 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Tera Mtembu (c-c), 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Phepsi Buthelezi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Dylan Richardson, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 JP Pietersen.