The Vodacom Bulls fell short when they were defeated by the Toyota Cheetahs in a Carling Currie Cup clash in Bloemfontein on Saturday, with the side from the Free State claiming the top position on the log following the result.
Their splendid bonus-point win allowed them to leap over the defending champions from Pretoria into the top spot as they finished the regular fixtures with 48 points, one point better than the Vodacom Bulls who finished second.
Having successfully prevented Gert Smal’s team from gaining any points from this exciting clash, the team coached by Hawies Fourie also earned the right to host the Final should they win next weekend’s semi-final in Bloemfontein against the Airlink Pumas.
The Vodacom Bulls, defending champions of SA’s premier domestic competition, will host the Windhoek Draught Griquas in the other semi-final next Saturday in Pretoria.
Playing at home in their last game of the league phase, the Free Staters enjoyed an excellent first half as the scored four converted tries to go 28-0 up at halftime, to bring up the crucial bonus point.
The Toyota Cheetahs needed a bonus-point win, while keeping the visitors from gaining any bonus points, to secure first place as their big reward. Before kick-off that seemed a huge ask as the Free Staters have lost their last two league games – against Windhoek Draught Griquas and the Airlink Pumas – after going on an impressive nine-game unbeaten run.
But playing in front of their faithful supporters, the home pack was simply outstanding against their young opponents, while skipper and scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar was the impressive general behind the pack as he pulled all the right strings.
Apart from an overthrow in the first half, they were simply outstanding in the lineout, which delivered two early tries, while the visitors struggled to match them in the scrums. And when the men from Pretoria did managed to threaten their line, they displayed solid defence to keep them at bay.
The match was barely two minutes old when prolific try-scoring hooker Louis van der Westhuizen was pushed over the line for his 14th try of the current campaign. Pienaar raised the flags with his conversion kick (7-0). Twelve minutes later the home side used the same tactic to deadly effect, with the same outcome to double their lead to 14-0.
Right wing Daniel Kasende was put away out wide and he still had a defender to beat, which he did very well, before dotting down the third try which Pienaar had no trouble converting from the side as the white and orange jerseys took control with the score at 21-0.
Outside centre David Brits followed in quick succession over the whitewash, with Pienaar adding the extras to steer his side to a comfortable 28-10 halftime lead.
After the restart, fullback Clayton Blommetjies was the beneficiary of a great floating pass from Pienaar, allowing the hard-running No 15 to dot down try number five (35-0).
The Vodacom Bulls did eventually got onto the scoreboard via a well-worked Stedman Gans try initiated by Lionel Mapoe in midfield.
The rest of the second half was a good arm wrestle as the visitors tried their best but the Toyota Cheetahs doing everything possible to safeguard their goal line and their bonus-point advantage.
Toyota Cheetahs 35 (28) – Tries: Louis van der Westhuizen, Daniel Kasende David Brits, Clayton Blommetjies. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (5).
Vodacom Bulls 5 (0) – Try: Stedman Gans.