The Toyota Free State Cheetahs clinched a dramatic 34-34 draw on Saturday against the Cell C Sharks in Bloemfontein to finish fourth on the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division log, and in doing so, they booked themselves a Semi-final clash against the Xerox Golden Lions next weekend in Johannesburg.
The Cheetahs scored two converted tries in the in last five minutes at the Free State Stadium while replacement fullback Neil Marais slotted the vital conversion after the final hooter to draw the two teams level in Bloemfontein, and at the same time shatter the Sharks’ playoff hopes. The Cheetahs finished two points above the Sharks on the final log with 24 points.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls finished second on the log after they edged the Steval Pumas 25-24 in Nelspruit on Friday and they now meet third-placed DHL Western Province in Pretoria in the playoffs. The Bulls versus Province clash is set for this coming Friday evening at Loftus Versfeld.
In Cape Town, WP finished their league commitments with a bonus-point 45-14 win over the Eastern Province Kings. Runaway log leaders, the Xerox Golden Lions, completed the round-robin phase unbeaten with ten wins after their much changed side defeated the ORC Griquas 29-19 in Johannesburg.
Xerox Golden Lions (14) 29 ORC Griquas (14) 19
The Golden Lions made 13 changes to their team and tried to assert their dominance, but the new combinations struggled to get into their rhythm initially. They improved as the match went on and managed to secure a bonus-point win, which meant the Lions finished the regular season unbeaten.
Griquas flank RJ Liebenberg was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Golden Lions scrumhalf Ricky Schroeder.
Springbok Sevens internationals Sampie Mastriet and Kwagga Smith both scored a try each for the Lions, while outside centre Jacques Nel stole the show of the two Nel-brothers by scoring two tries.
He is the brother of Blitzbok Ruhan Nel, who played opposite him in the No 13 jersey for Griquas. Flyhalf Jaco van der Walt slotted three conversions and also succeeded with a penalty.
The visiting Griquas team scored three tries, one each by No 8 Carel Greeff, scrumhalf and captain Tian Meyer and replacement No 9 Dylan Frylinck. Fullback Gouws Prinsloo converted two tries.
Xerox Golden Lions – Tries: Sampie Mastriet, Kwagga Smith, Jacques Nel (2); Conversions: Jaco van der Walt (3); Penalty: Van der Walt.
ORC Griquas – Tries: Carel Greeff, Tian Meyer, Dylan Frylinck; Conversions: Gouws Prinsloo (2).
Toyota Free State Cheetahs (17) 34 Cell C Sharks (13) 34
The Sharks were trailing by two points in fifth place on the log at the start of this match, an encounter they had to win if they were to advance to the playoffs.
With just five minutes of play left and from a penalty deep in their own half, the Cheetahs took a tap and sent Rayno Benjamin away on a terrific run for his second try. And then, as they piled on the pressure, the Sharks conceded another penalty which gave the Cheetahs a lineout five metres out. Gerard Olivier was driven over and with Neil Marais kicking the two conversions, the home team snatched an unlikely draw, and with that the last Semi-final place offer.
Benjamin (2), Boom Prinsloo and Gerhard Olivier were the try scorers for the Bloemfontein side. Flyhalf Sias Ebersohn kicked two conversions and also two penalties, while substitute Neil Marais succeeded with the two important late conversions to draw the teams level.
The Sharks scored four tries through Ettienne Oosthuizen, Cobus Reinach (scrumhalf), Paul Jordaan (centre) and Garth April (fullback). Joe Pietersen converted one try and added four successful penalties.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Rayno Benjamin (2), Boom Prinsloo, Gerhard Olivier. Conversions: Sias Ebersohn (2), Neil Marais (2). Penalties: Ebersohn.(2)
Cell C Sharks – Tries: Ettienne Oosthuizen, Cobus Reinach, Paul Jordaan, Garth April. Conversions: Pietersen, Penalties: Pietersen (4).
Steval Pumas (7) 24 Vodacom Blue Bulls (13) 25
The Bulls led 13-7 at halftime and were 25-10 in the lead at one stage, however, the Pumas produced a stirring fightback in the last period of the second half to almost cause an upset.
The home side opened the scoring in the third minute through flank Marnus Schoeman, who picked the ball up from the base of a ruck and crashed over. The Bulls hit back when flank Deon Stegman finished off a rolling maul.
Fullback Warrick Gelant then started a move in his own half which saw left wing Jamba Ulengo diving over as the Bulls went 10-7 ahead. Flyhalf Tian Schoeman slotted a penalty to give the visitors a six point lead at halftime.
Pumas pivot Marnus van Staden narrowed the gap after the break with his penalty, but the Bulls took control when Stegman and Ulengo each scored for a second time in the match.
The Pumas fought back impressively and they scored first through wing Rosko Specman and then lock Rudi Mathee, after the siren, to make the final score 25-24.
Steval Pumas – Tries: Marnus Schoeman, Rosko Specman, Rudi Mathee; Conversions: Justin van Staden (3); Penalty: Van Staden.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Tries: Deon Stegman (2), Jamba Ulengo (2); Conversions: Tian Schoeman; Penalty: Schoeman.
DHL Western Province (24) 45 Eastern Province Kings 14 (14)
Province took the lead after just three minutes when Nizaam Carr took advantage of some hesitant defending. Fullback Scott van Breda kept the Kings in the game with three penalties.
Captain Juan de Jongh scored his team’s second try shortly after Van Breda’s third penalty, when he rounded off a quick tap from a kickable penalty. Flyhalf Robert du Preez added the extras to make it 17-9. Scrumhalf Godlen Masimla easily broke for a converted try but the Kings hit back through an Enrico Acker (No 9) try.
Province secured the outcome with two tries in the second half. First fullback Dillyn Leyds dotted down and then substitute Justin Benn, for WP to take a 38-14 lead. Another late try from Leyds wrapped up a comfortable 45-14 win for WP.
DHL Western Province – Tries: Nizaam Carr, Juan de Jongh, Godlen Masimla, Dillyn Leyds (2), Justin Benn; Conversions: Robert du Preez (4), Kurt Coleman (2); Penalties: Du Preez.
Eastern Province Kings – Try: Enrico Acker; Penalties: Scott van Breda (3).