The defending Currie Cup champions’ chances of defending their title were dealt a heavy blow when the Free State Cheetahs were beaten 23-5 by the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The Cheetahs saved themselves from blushing by getting some points on the board through a second half try by Robert Ebersohn but the grim reality of the loss meant that they dropped out of semi-final contention.

Saturday’s loss kept the Bulls in second place on the log but the Cheetahs slipped to fifth place and in danger of not making the semi-finals if things stay the way they are in the closing two weeks of the round robin stages of the Currie Cup. The Bulls were first off the mark through two penalties by Morne Steyn before wing Bryan Habana scored the opening try of the match in the 18th minute.

The Cheetahs committed some bad handlng errors which did not help their cause and the position was further compounded when flyhalf Chris Rossouw missed a penalty in front of the poles in the 24th minute.

The Bulls stretched their lead in the 27th minute when Bulls centre Marius Delport intercepted a pass thrown by Rossouw and raced across the field to score under the posts and give the Bulls a 20 point lead after Steyn’s conversion.

The Cheetahs could have found themselves further behind but the ball from the two interceptions by Akona Ndungane and Habana did not stick in the hands of the Bulls’ players.

Steyn further stretched the Bulls’ lead with a penalty on the stroke of half-time to give the visitors a comfortable 23-0 lead.

In the second half, the Cheetahs put together some impressive phases but could not break the Bulls’ defensive lines when trying to overpower them in the engineroom.

The Cheetahs were given hope in the 46th minute when Robert Ebersohn dived on the ball after Rossouw had kicked a well-timed cross kick with the Bulls’ defence stretched to the limit.

However, that would be the last growl from the Cheetahs as every attack of theirs was quickly extinguished by the Bulls.

The Bulls, though, could not add to their 23 points in the first half and, in the process, failed to gain a bonus point but remained in second place on the Currie Cup log.

The Cheetahs slipped out of contention and will have to win their remaining matches and hope that either the Lions or Western Province lose their remaining two matches before the semi-finals are confirmed.