Preview: Currie Cup Final

Date published: October 21 2016

The Free State Cheetahs will be keen to finish their 2016 campaign on a high when they host the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup Final in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Victory for the home side will not only earn them their first title since 2007, it would also mark their 10th straight win this season.

Head coach Franco Smith deserves plenty of credit for his side's superb run – after another underwhelming Super Rugby campaign – and after claiming a 55-17 win over the Golden Lions in last weekend's semi-final, Smith is delighted with his side's form ahead of the final but warned that the job is not done yet.

"It came quickly, we started last year and a lot of people had high expectations," he told Supersport.

"With that first Bulls game here, with the Currie Cup we managed to empty the stadium. So it was a mission to get those fans back. 

"There is still a lot of hard work ahead and this is what makes this group so unique. They all want to achieve. That is what we are striving towards. 

"It is one thing to be successful and another to be significant. That is what we all want to see in South Africa – significance. 

"We want to bring joy to everyone in South Africa, so there is a lot of hard work ahead of us."
The Cheetahs will, however, face a Blue Bulls outfit who are equally hungry for success as they last won the title in 2009 – incidentally against the Free Staters in Pretoria – and who are also coming off an impressive winning run of five matches.

But looking at the history of Currie Cup finals between these teams, it’s clear the Free State Cheetahs will have their work cut out for them. The Blue Bulls have won seven of the nine previous finals between the sides from 1973 to 2009, while the teams shared the title in 2006 after playing to a 28-28 draw after an exhausting 100 minutes of rugby.

Adding spice to the clash, is the intense rivalry between the teams as they met in back-to-back Currie Cup finals from 2004 to 2006, with each side winning one, while the other match ended in a draw.

In the six Currie Cup Finals hosted by the Free State Cheetahs since 1939, they have lost three, won two and registered one draw.

The hosts boast better statistics on attack and defence than the Pretoria side, with 55 tries scored and 21 conceded in their nine matches this season, to 42 tries scored by the Blue Bulls and 29 conceded.

They will, however, be wary of writing off the visitors, who found themselves in a similar situation in the 2005 Currie Cup Final – on a nine-match winning running and playing with confidence in front of their home crowd – when the Free Staters defied the odds to take their first title in 29 years.

The Bulls showed plenty of character in their semi-final against Western Province and eventually secured victory in that encounter's closing stages, after the lead changed hands several times.

Blue Bulls captain Arno Botha knows his side will have to deliver their best performance of the season if they want to upset their hosts.

"It is going to be a very simple equation," he said.

"The team who plays best during that 80 minutes will win the match and the Currie Cup.

"We both start at 0-0, so it is up to us to deliver. Yes, it will be tough playing in front of the Cheetahs fans, but they deserved the right to host the final."

The burly number eight expects a tight match. 

"South African derbies tend to be tough and uncompromising and seeing that we are playing for the ultimate prize in domestic rugby, this one will be even more so," he added.

"We are determined though to reward our hard work during the season and to reward our fans with a performance we all can be proud of."

The last time these teams met: The Cheetahs claimed a deserved 43-20 victory when these sides met at the same venue in Round Two of the league phase of the competition. The Cheetahs outscored their visitors by six tries to two and led 24-10 at half-time. The highlight of the encounter came just before the break when Cheetahs prop Ox Nche showed a superb turn of speed from the halfway line before crossing for a deserved try.

Prediction: The Bulls will put up a brave fight, but they won't be able to get the better of their hosts who have been superb all season. Free State Cheetahs to win by eight points! 

The teams:

Free State Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Rayno Benjamin, 23 Conrad van Vuuren

Blue Bulls: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins,3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 Bjorn Basson    

Date: Saturday, 22 October 
Time: 16:00 (14:00 GMT) 
Venue: Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Marius Jonker