The Free State Cheetahs have dropped out of the Currie Cup play-off positions after a nervy performance against the Blue Bulls condemned them to a 5-23 defeat at Vodacom Park in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that the Cheetahs needed at least a point from the match to stay ahead of Western Province on the log table, but they came up empty-handed to remain in fifth spot on the log.
Province now have a slight yet significant advantage over the Cheetahs as the Currie Cup race moves into overdrive in the final two weeks of round-robin action.
The result kept the Bulls in second place on the log as they played the quintessential game of two halves – slick and powerful in the first period, but scrappy and ineffective in the second.
The visitors were first off the mark through two penalties by Morné Steyn, before wing Bryan Habana scored the opening try of the match in the 18th minute.
The Cheetahs committed some bad handling errors which did not help their cause and the position was further compounded when flyhalf Chris Rossouw missed a penalty plumb in front of the poles in the 24th minute.
The Bulls stretched their lead in the 27th minute when Bulls centre Marius Delport intercepted a pass thrown by Rossouw and raced across the field to score under the posts and give the Bulls a 20-point lead after Steyn’s conversion.
The Cheetahs could have found themselves further behind but the ball from the two interceptions by Akona Ndungane and Habana did not stick in the hands of the Bulls’ players.
Steyn further stretched the Bulls lead with a penalty on the stroke of half-time to give the visitors a comfortable 23-0 lead.
In the second half, the Cheetahs put together some impressive phases but could not break the Bulls’ defensive lines when trying to overpower them in the engine room.
The Cheetahs were given hope in the 46th minute when Robert Ebersohn dived on the ball after Rossouw had executed a well-placed cross-kick with the Bulls’ defence stretched to the limit.
However, that would be the last growl from the Cheetahs as every other attack of theirs was quickly extinguished by the Bulls.
The Bulls, though, could not add to their 23 points from the first half and, in the process, failed to gain a bonus point, but remained in second place on the Currie Cup log.
The Cheetahs are slipping out of contention for a play-off spot, and will have to win their remaining matches and hope that either the Lions or Western Province slip up before the semifinals are confirmed.
For the Cheetahs:
For the Blue Bulls:
Tries: Delport, Habana
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 3
Yellow card: Danie Rossouw (Blue Bulls, 66 – Dangerous play, late and dangerous tackle)
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Bevin Fortuin, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Chris Rossouw, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith (captain), 6 Heinrich Brussöw, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 David de Villiers, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Nico Breedt, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Jandré Blom, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Kabamba Floors.
Blue Bulls: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Rayno Gerber, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Jaco Engels.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Zane Kirchner.