With 2016 coming to a close let's look back on an exciting Currie Cup tournament that saw the Free State Cheetahs win the auspicious trophy.
The Currie Cup campaign ended with the Cheetahs replicating the 2015 Golden Lions' by winning every single game in the competition. It was an incredible season for the Free State side who hadn't won the Currie Cup since 2007 when they beat the Golden Lions 20-18 in Bloemfontein.
The Cheetahs finished the tournament nine points ahead of their next best competitor, the Blue Bulls, who finished with 30 points. The men from Mangaung also ended the competition with 185 points difference, second placed in this category were the Golden Lions who had a 157 points difference showing the Free State's dominance over the rest of the sides. The Blue Bulls were deserved finalists after coming second in the overall table but only by three points as Western Province were right behind them.
Days before the tournament was set to start, it was teeming with controversy after the Eastern Province Kings had to file for liquidation after being found bankrupt and unable to pay their players. They were then supposed to be replaced by the Leopards but were able to play in the tournament after a government bail-out saved the team. The Lions also forced the competition organisers to give them a bye in the first round because they still had players competing in the Super Rugby final putting another organisational spanner in SARU's works.
It was another disappointing run for the Eastern Province Kings. The men from Port Elizabeth went zero for zero in their campaign. It must be said though, that the group of mercenaries they were able muster weeks before the start of the competition, did put in some solid and spirited performances spear-headed by the ever-industrious Ricky Schroeder.
The Sharks would have been massively disappointed with how they finished the competition. After winning their first four games while displaying some fresh, fast rugby, they had a bye which seemed to kill their momentum. They would win one more game after that but would eventually finish fifth on the log and miss out on a semi-final berth. But with young and exciting players like Inny Radebe, Lukhanyo Am and Curwin Bosch coming through the ranks, they should definitely be a powerhouse in the future.
Western Province would have been disappointed with how they bowed out of a final spot. The men from Cape Town travelled to Loftus and gave the Bulls a very different game compared to their first clash where the Bulls wiped them 45-26 in the same venue. WP were in control for most of the game until the very death when in the 78th minute rookie scrum-half Ivan van Zyl crossed the white wash which led to a Blue Bulls 36-30 victory and final spot.
The second semi-final wasn't as close, as the Cheetahs ran the bewildered Golden Lions ragged, scoring six tries with season-revelation, Sergeal Peterson, claiming a hat-trick to win 55-17.
The final was indicative of the Cheetahs' season as they controlled almost all aspects of the game, keeping 66 percent of the possession, making almost double the Blue Bulls running metres while outscoring their opponents two to one. Petersen scored again and he was joined on the scoreboard by Clayton Blommetjies, the Bulls' lonely try came from replacement scrum-half Piet van Zyl.
By Nicholas McGregor