Toyota Stadium was packed to the rafters at the weekend as the Cheetahs raced from behind to down the Sharks and earn a first appearance in the grand final since 2016, looking in superlative form ahead of the Guinness PRO14 season.
Anticipation is high in South Africa with Saturday’s final against the Lions gearing up as a monumental clash – this is how the Cheetahs got there…
OUT OF THE BLOCKS
The Free Staters had a blank weekend in the opening weekend of the Currie Cup back on July 12, but made up for lost time in superb style in their bow a week later – winning away from home at the Bulls – 43-27.
Outside centre Barend Janse Van Rensburg was the man at the double in that match, both tries coming in the first half to set up the win, while a week later the trio of Joseph Dweba, William Small-Smith and Dries Swanepoel all got in on the act of scoring braces.
That second fixture shot the Cheetahs to the top of the Currie Cup standings, Griquas swept aside in a 68-14 victory at Toyota Stadium.
Despite the resounding victory the match was notable for Griquas dominating possession but unable to contain the five-time Currie Cup champions’ counter-attacking game – Junior Pokomela, Henco Venter, Dweba and Small-Smith all making it 28-0 at half-time – six more tries flowed after the interval oranges.
— DJ Rossouw (@DjRossouw87) September 5, 2019
FIRST BLOOD TO LIONS
A week after that big win over Griquas came a wobble from Franco Smith’s men, their only loss at home inflicted by the Lions before defeat came at the hands of the Sharks – 27-20.
The Lions ran out 24-22 winners at Toyota Stadium at the start of August but the Cheetahs will feel confident they’re in a better place now, with that match coming in the fledgling stages of what is effectively the club’s pre-season, the Lions already further ahead in their preparations.
The Free Staters surged into a 19-0 lead thanks to tries from Dweba, Walt Steenkamp and Marnus van der Merwe and despite a late penalty from Louis Fouche, plus the debut of Ruan Pienaar off the bench, it was the Lions who fought back to stay at the summit.
HITTING THE STRIDE
Since that wobble, the form, and bucketloads of tries, have flowed for the Cheetahs as they build into the season.
First came a lung-busting 43-37 victory away at the Pumas, the Free Staters dominating possession with former Springbok scrum-half Pienaar linking play using all of his sharpness and experience.
Tries came for Bernhard Janse van Rensburg (2), Clayton Blommetjies and Fouche among others, while six more tries were touched down in the 38-33 win over Western Province a week later.
— Toyota Cheetahs (@CheetahsRugby) September 4, 2019
On to the semi-final, and as has been commonplace in Cheetahs home matches in the Guinness PRO14, it was an absorbing encounter with both teams enjoying dominant periods.
The Sharks looked in control at half-time with a 20-11 advantage, but the Cheetahs came roaring back in the second half to run out 51-20 victors.
Pokomela was the star of the show with a try in each half, while Small-Smith, Pienaar, Dweba, Ox Nche and Jasper Wiese also got in on the act.
The Cheetahs spoke of their desire to reconnect with Bloemfontein and the wider Free State community at the start of the season, that has been achieved, while Saturday could yet to go on to bring treasured silverware and spark a dominating campaign in Europe.
Cardiff City Stadium will play host to the 2020 Guinness PRO14 Final on June 20 as one of the most exciting days in the club rugby calendar comes to Wales!
General sale tickets are available from http://bit.ly/PRO14Cardiff2020 and prices start at just £13 for concessions and £26 for adults (subject to booking fees), that’s a 15% early bird discount. Family ticket (2 adults / 2 children) prices begin at £64 and fans are encouraged to buy early to get the best value tickets.