Marais put the boot in

The superb goal-kicking of Niel Marais, as much as the irrepressible attack of the Cheetahs, contributed to their memorable 36-16 win over the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup final, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Coming into Saturday’s title decider, the Cheetahs had scored a whopping 55 tries in nine games. Beyond that, the Free State side had established themselves as an unstoppable attacking force with 5,036m made, 935 carries, 125 clean breaks and 209 defenders beaten during the course of the season.

Understandably, attack was expected to set the Cheetahs apart on Saturday, and they did end up enjoying the majority of possession and territory, while forcing the Blue Bulls to make almost double the number of tackles.

However, Marais once again illustrated the value of having a laser-eye goal-kicker. In the Cheetahs’ semi-final, the flyhalf contributed 21 points with a 100% success rate in front of poles, while he carried that form over into the final.

With the Cheetahs initially battling to get their free-flowing attacking game going (they made six handling errors in the first half), Marais just kept the scoreboard ticking over as the Bulls’ discipline regularly let them down in the face of increasing pressure.

Ultimately, Marais slotted seven penalties to claim the record for the most three-pointers in a Currie Cup final, while ensuring that the home side maintained a handy lead over the visitors throughout the encounter.

In the end, the Cheetahs finished as deserved winners, having benefited from a determined ball-in-hand approach, but Marais deserved just as much credit for his accuracy in front of posts.

As he did in the semi-final, Sergeal Petersen (66 running metres and five clean breaks) starred for the Cheetahs, with his late try capping off an outstanding all-round performance that surely strengthened his claims for a Bok call-up.

Moreover, the Cheetahs impressed on defence and established ascendancy at the set pieces to ultimately emerge as Currie Cup winners most deservedly.

Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images

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Craig Lewis