The Currie Cup 2016 Wrap is a celebration of Cheetahs rugby after their dominant campaign.
Currie Cup 2016 Wrap: Cheetahs The Champions
We take a brief look at how each team performed through the playoff stages of the competition.
The Lions ended fourth on the log after a tougher season than they have been used to recently. This was courtesy of their recent success, with a number of players either earning a well deserved Springbok call up or competing in Japan on a loan or short term basis, leaving it up their bench strength to be competitive. They Lions were eliminated from the competition at the semi-final stage after a 55 to 17 thumping in Bloemfontein. This won’t be the result that they hoped for in 2016, but they did take the opportunity to give valuable game time to their bench and extended squad.
DHL Western Province
Western Province also ceded a number of players to the Springbok side and can count themselves fairly lucky to qualify for the semi-finals. It took a very late and controversial try to defeat lowly Boland to make the playoffs. To their credit, they ran the Bulls very close in their semifinal. They lost 36 points to 30 at Loftus, with the Bulls needing a 78th minute try to qualify for the final.
Western Province continue to produce quality in depth and they will once again be a threat in the 2017 edition of the Currie Cup.
Vodacom Blue Bulls
The Blue Bulls enjoyed their best Currie Cup campaign in a number of years, qualifying for the final for the first time since 2009. In that game, they played the same opponents that they faced in 2016, winning 36 to 24 on that occasion. The Bulls hosted a home semifinal courtesy of finishing second on the log after round robin play. It took a late try by replacement scrumhalf Ivan van Zyl to earn them their place in the final.
This Bulls team, like so many Bulls teams of recent years, has a touch of “work in progress” about them, something which they will have to get around to become serious title contenders. They have been playing some very entertaining rugby during 2016, but were horribly exposed by the Cheetahs in the final. With players like Jamba Ulengo, Travis Ishmael and Burger Odendaal in the back line they should be a lot more creative than they are. The odd flash of brilliance is evident, but too far and few between. The Bulls continue to revert to old habits and were conservative on attack. Too often, quality front foot ball was passed to a tight forward at second or third receiver, slowing play down and the Cheetahs line speed on defence would then put the Bulls under severe pressure.
The Cheetahs were unbeaten during the round robin stages. They topped this off by seeing off the Lions 55 to 17 in their semi-final and then defeating the Bulls 36 to 16 in the final. Their accuracy and intensity on attack and defense has been a revelation in 2016. Their is confidence by both backs and fowards to run with the ball and to offload in the tackle.
The evidence of their total dominance on attack is borne out by a few statistics coming out of the game. They ran 605 meters with ball in hand as opposed to the 330 of the Bulls. They made 5 line breaks, the Bulls 1. They made 16 offloads as opposed to 4 and 120 passes as opposed to 41 (Courtesy of www.vodacomrugby.co.za).
The Bloemfontein faithful painted the Toyota Free State Stadium orange on Saturday, with their flags and jerseys and the Free State Cheetahs rewarded them with their first Currie Cup title since 2007. Players such as Sergeal Petersen, Francois Venter and Uzair Cassim have been rewarded with national call ups. Head Coach Franco Smith has also been rewarded for his contribution with a call up to assist Springbok coach Allister Coetzee on the End of Year Tour up North, but he will be looking over his shoulder to see if any of the cash flush unions come shopping for talent.