Sergeal Petersen scored a hat-trick of tries, while Niel Marais kicked 21 points as the Free State Cheetahs recorded a resounding 55-17 win over the Golden Lions in Saturday’s semi-final in Bloemfontein. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
This was a virtually flawless performance from the Cheetahs. They’ve now extended their undefeated record in the Currie Cup to nine matches – only two victories short of their 11-match winning record, which they set in 2007.
More importantly, though, they have now progressed to their first final since 2009, and there is no doubt based on this performance that they will be overwhelming favourites to lift the coveted domestic trophy.
Petersen, making his return from injury, was simply outstanding on Saturday, while Marais produced a peerless performance in front of the posts. This, though, was a complete team effort as the Cheetahs impressed on both attack and defence to emphatically end the Lions’ title defence.
When the two sides met earlier in the season, the Cheetahs managed to clinch an eight-point win in a fiercely contested encounter, and it was expected to be another closely fought affair this time around.
However, the Cheetahs made an emphatic statement from the outset. Playing with pace and precision, the home side camped in opposition territory during the early exchanges and applied plenty of pressure on a Lions defence that looked surprisingly disorganised.
That early pressure initially resulted in a couple of penalties that were coolly slotted by Marais, while a beautifully worked try that was finished off by Petersen in the 15th minute suddenly send the home side into a handy 13-point lead.
Although the Lions did enjoy some ascendancy at scrum time in the first period, with the return of Julian Redelinghuys making a clear difference, the visitors came off second best in almost every other department, with their discipline particularly letting them down.
Marais first edged the Free State side ahead with another penalty in the 24th minute, while repeated infringements then saw Lions loose forward Cyle Brink sent to the sin bin, which enabled the Cheetahs pivot to stretch the lead to 19 points.
It was always going to be a long way back from there for the Lions, but the Cheetahs would inflict further punishment before the break as a superb kick-chase from Petersen saw him control possession with the boot before dotting down for his second try.
Although the Lions had one final opportunity to strike back before the break, they coughed up possession on the tryline, which rather aptly summed up their first half, while enabling the Cheetahs to head into half-time with a commanding 26-point lead.
As expected, both sides did stick to their favoured style of ball-in-hand play during the opening half, but what really set the sides apart was the abrasive Cheetahs defence that prevented the Lions from getting their free-flowing game together.
And matters went from bad to worse for the Lions when they conceded another soft try just 25 seconds after the restart, with Petersen this time playing a part in creating a try for No 8 Niell Jordaan that took his side into an unassailable 33-0 lead.
There would be a brief reprieve for the Lions when replacement Sylvian Mahuza did manage to score next at a time when the Cheetahs’ Ryno Benjamin was in the sin bin, but Marais just kept the scoreboard ticking over with his fifth penalty of the afternoon soon after.
With the Cheetahs holding on to a 31-point lead heading into the final quarter, there could only be one winner, and while Mahuza and Ruaan Lerm did dot down for the Lions, Benjamin, Clayton Blommetjies and Petersen once more all scored before full-time as the hosts celebrated a famous victory.
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Sergeal Petersen (3), Niell Jordaan, Ryno Benjamin, Clayton Blommetjies. Conversions: Niel Marais (3), Fred Zeilinga (2). Penalties: Marais (5).
Golden Lions – Tries: Sylvian Mahuza (2), Ruaan Lerm. Conversion: Andries Coetzee.
Free State Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Ryno Benjamin, 23 Conraad van Vuuren.
Golden Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Jaques Nel, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Bobby de Wee, 4 Ruan Ackermann, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Stokkies Hanekom, 23 Sylvian Muhaza.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images