Cheetahs end Blues hopes and reach play offs

The Cheetahs booked a place in the Super Rugby play offs and ended the Blues chances of progressing with a 34-13 Super Rugby victory in Bloemfontein.

The Cheetahs have a bye next weekend so they are gauranteed another four points – and a rest week ahead of the knock out stage.

The Cheetahs victory is a blow for their fellow South African teams the Sharks and the Stormers as neither can overtake the Bloemfontein franchise so their seasons are also effectively over as far as the title is concerned.

Cheetahs fly-half Riaan Smit put the Bloemfontein-based franchise ahead after
two minutes with the first of five successful penalty kicks, but the Blues hit back
through a clever try from scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park.

Fly-half Baden Kerr converted to give the Blues a four-point advantage before
a 12,000 Free State Stadium crowd in a match the visitors had to win to keep
alive their own play-off hopes.

Another Smit penalty cut the deficit to a single point and when No. 8 Philip
van der Walt barged over beside the post after a scrum, the Cheetahs had a lead
they never surrendered.

They turned over 19-10 ahead in a tense, error-strewn match, and sealed success
with a couple of late tries from two replacements, scrum-half Sarel Pretorius
and lock Boom Prinsloo.

Smit contributed the other 19 points for the home side via two conversions
and five penalties as the Cheetahs put their poor recent form behind them to
ensure finishing at least sixth.

A bye in the final round next weekend will give the Cheetahs four additional
points and lift them to 54, and they will rise one place to fifth if the Reds
return pointless from a visit to fellow Australians, the Waratahs.

Cheetahs’ victory not only eliminated three-time champions the Blues, but also
South African sides the Stormers and the Sharks.

“I am very proud of my team, although we left a few tries out there,”
said Cheetahs hooker and skipper Adriaan Strauss.

“We stuck to instructions this evening and each player focused on his
task.

“No one gave us a chance of finishing among the top six teams when the
season kicked off last February, but I always believed we could do it. We will
take Sunday off and then start training for the knock-out stage.”

Blues skipper and recently retired All Blacks lock Ali Williams lavished praise
on the Cheetahs, who completed a 16-match league schedule with 10 victories
and six defeats after starting the season with two losses.

“We were outclassed – they strangled the life out of us and good luck
to them in the rest of the competition. The Cheetahs play rugby with tremendous
passion.”

In a match of too many knock-ons, reset scrums and scrappy exchanges, a major
surprise was the failure of usually dynamic Blues left-wing Rene Ranger to make
an impact.

His lone chance to score came seven minutes after half-time when he collected
a Willie le Roux chip inside the Blues’ 22 and burst clear only to be superbly
tackled by left-wing Raymond Rhule in Cheetahs’ territory.

Baden Kerr, part of a second-choice starting half-back partnership with Gibson-Park
as Chris Noakes and Piri Weepu were injured, also kicked two penalties for the
Auckland outfit.

Final Score Cheetahs 34 (19) Blues 13 (10)

Scorers

Cheetahs
Tries –  P. van der Walt, S. Pretorius, B.Prinsloo
Pen –  R. Smit 5
Con – R.Smit 2
Drop –
Cards –

Blues
Tries – J.Gibson-Park
Pen – B.Kerr 2
Con – B.Kerr
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee
: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Ref 1:Ben Crouse
Assistant Ref 2:Francois de Bruin
TMO

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