Deadly boot key to Cheetahs win

TRIUMPH REWARDED: Cheetahs captain Francios Venter, centre, and his teammates celebrate after winning the Currie Cup against the Blue Bulls at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein at the weekend Picture: GALLO IMAGES
TRIUMPH REWARDED: Cheetahs captain Francios Venter, centre, and his teammates celebrate after winning the Currie Cup against the Blue Bulls at the Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein at the weekend
Picture: GALLO IMAGES

Niel Marais kicked a Currie Cup final record of seven penalties to create a 36-16 triumph for the Cheetahs over the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein on Saturday and end eight trophy-less seasons.

His 21-point contribution from eight shots at goal marked a wonderful climax to the season for a flyhalf who started it as the second-choice playmaker behind Fred Zeilinga.

Marais bettered the six-penalty benchmark set by Sharks and Springboks utility back Patrick Lambie.

Cheetahs led 18-9 at half time, after a battle of the boot with Marais slotting six penalties and rival flyhalf and leading 2016 Currie Cup points-scorer Tian Schoeman getting three for the Bulls.

Marais kicked another penalty in front of a near-capacity 43 500 crowd at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein before the first try was scored 17 minutes from time.

An intercept and break by winger Sergeal Petersen took play close to the Bulls’ try-line, from where the ball moved swiftly across the field for fullback Clayton Blommetjies to dot down. Substitute Zeilinga converted from the touchline and added a penalty for an imposing 31-9 advantage 67 minutes into the rugby showpiece.

The Bulls finally cracked open a quick, aggressive Free State defence on 74 minutes as scrumhalf Piet van Zyl dummied his way over and a fellow substitute, flyhalf Joshua Stander, converted.

But the Cheetahs had the final say four minutes from time when Zeilinga broke clear from midfield and sent Petersen sprinting over unopposed.

“Fantastic crowd support, hard work and a burning desire to succeed were the secrets of our success,” Cheetahs skipper and centre Francois Venter said.

“We did it, boys, well done,” he added while pointing at his jubilant teammates before lifting the 124-year-old trophy to thunderous applause.

Winning coach Franco Smith said: “One of my dreams was to see the Cheetahs lift the Currie Cup in front of a full house in Bloemfontein.”

The Cheetahs won all eight league matches before thrashing defending champions the Golden Lions 55-17 in the semifinals last weekend.

Cheetahs loose forward Uzair Cassiem was voted the man of the match.

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