Cheetahs are a team of Currie Cup fighters

They’re in the final, but if they don’t win it their fight-back from no-hopers to serious title challengers will be of little consequence, said Free State Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske after his side shocked home-town favourites Sharks to a 23-21 defeat in Durban on Saturday.

It was a Currie Cup semifinal win built on Free State’s guts and teamwork and came against all the odds, and their coach called them “special” afterwards.

The Cheetahs could justifiably be called South Africa’s greatest rugby fighters, for if ever a side came back from adversity to make it to the Currie Cup finals, it must be Drotske’s Cheetahs.

Four defeats in their first four matches in the Currie Cup league phase contributed to most sides underestimating their potential and viewing a match against them as a certain four log points.

How wrong they were!

They also battled against what, in most other unions, would have been a leadership crisis.

Injuries to their star player and captain Juan Smith first shook them in the Super 14.

Then came the injury to one of their few other Springboks and Smith’s successor as captain Meyer Bosman, followed by injury to his replacement as captain Hendro Scholtz. Adriaan Scholtz then took over and was in due course also injured.

Their fifth captain for the season, Nico Breedt, had to take over. Breedt was the only one of the five without Springbok colours.

It mattered little. Under his leadership the young guns in their front row – shaken and disrupted after injury to their second best hooker Richardt Strauss – not only withstood the Sharks’ onslaught but taught the experienced Springbok front three a lesson as the Cheetahs went on to win the semifinal 23-21.

Winning is one thing. What really impressed is that the Free State Cheetahs, after a dominant first half on the field but not the scoreboard, came back from a halftime deficit of 18-3 to clinch it three minutes from time with flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter’s drop goal.

Potgieter was the man responsible for 18 of his side’s 23 points, which included an intercept – on the bounce – after a wild pass from scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar flung over flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez’s head.

The Cheetahs won the lineouts, Hein rich Brussow was near-unbelievable at breakdown time, and the Sharks could score only two tries from miles out.

“We weren’t good enough,” Sharks coach John Plumtree conceded afterwards.

“They deserved it.”

There will be less agreement on whether the Blue Bulls deserved their 21-19 win over Western Province at Newlands on Saturday.

The Blue Bulls, seemed to romp home with a 12-0 lead halfway through the first half. a big score seemed on the cards.

But then WP scrummed the Blue Bulls to bits, defended like tigers, scored the only try in the match and ultimately led until three minutes before the end.

The Blue Bulls lineout stuttered with three poor throws by Derick Kuun giving WP three turnovers in the Bulls’ strongest facet; and the Blue Bulls have problems at tighthead, however they try to talk around this weakness.

Their scrum will be an undoubted Free State target in the final at Loftus in a fortnight’s time. In the end, it was their three Springbok inside backs that swung it for them.

Fourie du Preez – not always his usual clinical self behind a retreating scrum – the mature and unshakeable Morne Steyn at flyhalf and by far South Africa’s best inside centre Wynand Olivier dominated tactics and attack.

And the way in which the Blue Bulls’ up-and-unders always landed just outside the WP quarter and those of the home side well within which allowed the Blue Bulls time to counter or defend, was probably the biggest single difference between the two sides.

“We did what we do best and stuck to that pattern,” Blue Bulls captain Victor Matfield said afterwards, adding that WP

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