The Cheetahs ended top of the log after an exciting final pool round of Currie Cup action over the weekend saw plenty of movement before the top four was settled with the Sharks finishing second, Pumas third and Bulls fourth.
That means the Cheetahs will welcome the Pretoria side, who they beat 31-27 at Loftus on Saturday, to Bloemfontein for their semi-final clash this coming Saturday, while the Sharks will host the defending champion Pumas in Durban.
The Cheetahs will be thrilled to finish on top of the log for the second consecutive season, especially after a late blip saw them lose two games and draw one to slip behind the Sharks, before they rallied with away wins over the Pumas and Bulls to reclaim the summit.
The Bulls will be slightly disappointed to have lost to the Cheetahs, especially after they stormed into an early 19-0 lead before the visitors fought back, but they lost eighthman Elrigh Louw to a red card in the first half and still did enough to get the two bonus points they needed to secure a semi spot.
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“It’s not ideal to play with 14 men in the last 45 minutes. We saw a lot of character and a lot of desire from the team to hang in there, because it could’ve gotten away from us,” said Bulls assistant coach Hugo van As after the game.
“Our primary goal was to win the game, but we’re quite happy with achieving the two bonus points that qualify us for the semi-final.”
The Sharks will need to shake off a disheartening final pool game after they were thrashed 44-5 by Western Province at the Cape Town Stadium.
It ended a fantastic seven-match winning run in the competition and saw them having to settle for second place on the log, but they had fielded a much changed team for the game which definitely contributed to a disjointed performance.
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“We rested 15 guys who aren’t scarred by this (loss). They are back home and the last thing they remember is winning a game against the Lions,” explained the Sharks’ Currie Cup coach Joey Mangolo.
“So there is not a lot of scarring that’s been done to that group. And it’s about getting eight guys from the group that played today (Saturday). They might have some scarring, but we will sort them out. This team has faced adversity plenty before.”
The Pumas will, however, head into their semi clash with good momentum after they bounced back from their loss against the Cheetahs with a 27-17 win over Griquas in Kimberley, in shades of last year’s final, to keep alive their hopes of retaining their title.
In what turned out to be a dead rubber match in the end, the Lions finished their Currie Cup campaign on a high with a 39-22 win over the Griffons in Welkom on Friday, which had temporarily moved them up to fourth on the log before finishing in sixth spot after Saturday’s games.