The Blue Bulls will meet the Sharks in Durban in two weeks time to determine the 2008 Currie Cup champion after beating defending champions Cheetahs 31-19 in the semifinal at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The Cheetahs had been champions for the past three seasons, sharing it in 2006 with the Blue Bulls.
The Blue Bulls, varying from brilliant to average during the game, played some scintillating rugby at times and effectively mixed this up with some direct, uncompromising forward play.
They also scrummed the Cheetahs off their ball on two occasions and, at times, looked the genuine article – but what must be of concern to coach Frans Ludeke is their continued habit of letting up at times.
Twenty points in the first 18 minutes was not quite according to the script in what was expected to be, and was, a hard, uncompromising match.
Fifteen of those points came from penalties with the rucks the main area of transgression. The battle on the ground between two former team-mates, Heinrich Brussouw and Deon Stegmann, was something to behold and more proof to doubting Springbok coach Peter de Villiers of the value of a fetcher.
The Free State had most of the possession and also a slight territorial advantage and led 9-6 via three penalties to two until the 18th minute when the Blue Bulls got their try – a classic example of what class their players are capable.
Thereafter, the Bulls took over and ran with purpose and good support.
They were unlucky not to cross the Cheetahs’ line and can justifiably feel aggrieved that the visitors – and Bevin Fortuin in particular – were not penalised more often for off-sides.
Their first try came when Fourie du Preez (picture), from inside his own half, put up a high one which landed just outside the Cheetahs’ 22. It wasn’t controlled and the Bulls recycled quickly. Wynand Olivier summed up the overlap perfectly and took it wide to Bryan Habana with a perfect pass and he gave the lead back to the Bulls (11-9).
Olivier, who was at his very best, underlined his class when he went blind for a 70 metre run with the Cheetahs barely hanging on. Only two blatant off-sides by Fortuin – he was penalised for the second – kept them out.
A penalty against Fortuin took the Bulls to 14-9 before a their second, near perfect try was scored by John Mametsa. The Bulls switched from the one side of the field to the other to create another huge overlap. Zane Kirchner cantered through and then, to rub it in, passed to Mametsa with nobody in range to stop him.
Coming right on the halftime hooter, the Bulls would have gone into the change room in buoyant mood at 21-9.
After the break, the Bulls initially lacked urgency, but that changed after a penalty by the Cheetahs (21-12). Taking the ball through six or seven phases, they had numbers to burn and Morne Steyn put captain Victor Matfield into the gap and over the line (28-12).
The Blue Bulls seemed in control, but a dropped ball on the Cheetahs’ 22 saw their speedster Jongi Nokwe sprint 80 metres for a converted try. At 28-19, the Bulls were far from home and dry and the Cheetahs played with a new urgency, but two missed, long-range penalties by Jacques-Louis Potgieter didn’t help their cause.