Blue Bulls hold off Free State in Currie Cup

The Blue Bulls held off a late charge from the Free State Cheetahs
to earn a 24-17 Currie Cup victory at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.

With the result the Bulls remain unbeaten in the domestic showpiece, and more
importantly, the relatively young group of players showed that they are capable
of adapting to circumstances.

The Blue Bulls needed to show great character in the end to keep the Cheetahs
at bay in the closing exchanges while the men from Bloemfontein will be gutted
that they failed to convert the many chances they created.

As expected, both sides were eager to give the ball air but the Cheetahs were
superior as far as ball retention was concerned.

The visiting side’s ability to convert good field position into points
was, however, less impressive on the night. This was due to a combination of
poor decisions, and a wet ball, although Nollis Marais’ charges have to
be credited for their outstanding scramble defence.

The Blue Bulls’ first-phase defence looked far more flustered and Cheetahs
fullback Clayton Blommetjies often exposed that weakness with some outstanding
runs.

It took 20-minutes for the first points to be scored in the match and splendid
work in defence by centre Dries Swanepoel contributed to a fairly easy finish
by his midfield partner Burger Odendaal.

Flanker Roelof Smit proved to be a significant thorn in the side of the Cheetahs
throughout the contest.

Smit helped his team extend their lead to 8-0 in the 28th minute of the match
when he won a penalty at the breakdown.

Already chasing the game, the Cheetahs were dealt a further blow when prop
Luan de Bruin was sent off for cynical play with seven minutes remaining in
the half.

But that didn’t stop the Cheetahs from playing their attacking brand
of rugby.

After Tian Schoeman stretched his team’s lead to 11-0 with a penalty,
the Cheetahs finally managed to finish after scrumhalf Shaun Venter stepped
his way through the Bulls defenders before sending centre Ryno Benjamin over.

The Bulls enjoyed a slender 11-7 lead at the break and the Cheetahs narrowed
that gap in the 44th minute through Zeilinga – who had missed two chances
in the first stanza.

The goalkickers in both camps would struggle to hit the target for the remainder
of the second half and this contributed to a closely contested final quarter.

In what should be encouraging from a national team perspective is that Oupa
Mohoje went on a bursting run that is likely to be a result of the intensive
training regime he was exposed to while he was still part of the Springbok camp.

The Blue Bulls struggled to deal with the quick line speed at which the Cheetahs
defended, but all that changed when Louis Fouche replaced Schoeman at fly-half.

The more experienced man was more confident from the kicking tee, slotting
a crucial kick in the 67th minute – and controlled play well.

From broken play, the Blue Bulls were always going to be dangerous and their
second try of the match came in the 72-minute when Dries Swanepoel capitalised
on some sound decision making by Fouche.

Trailing 23-10 the Cheetahs fought back valiantly and with three minutes remaining
on the clock, Sias Ebersohn gave his side a glimmer of hope when he crashed
over for their last score of the match.

Final Score Blue Bulls 24 (11) Free State Cheetahs 17 (7)

Scorers

Bulls
Tries: Burger Odendaal, Dries Swanepoel.
Conversion: Tian Schoeman
Penalties: Schoeman (2), Fouche (2)

FS Cheetahs
Tries: Ryno Benjamin, Sias Ebersohn
Conversions: Fred Zeilinga, C

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