Free State Cheetahs and Blue Bulls took contrasting routes Saturday to first appearances in the South African Currie Cup final for seven years.
Cheetahs, who topped the regular season standings by winning all eight games, thrashed title-holders Golden Lions 56-17 in Bloemfontein with Sergeal Petersen scoring a hat-trick.
Substitute Ivan van Zyl scored with 128 seconds left in Pretoria to earn Bulls a 36-30 victory over Western Province in the other semi-final after a thriller that featured flawless goal-kicking.
Bulls defeated Cheetahs in the 2009 final, but finishing higher on the log means the Bloemfontein outfit enjoy home advantage next Saturday and are set to start as slight favourites.
A mix of clinical finishing and aggressive defending by Cheetahs and the sin-binning of Lion Cyle Brink allowed the hosts to build a 26-0 half-time lead at Free State Stadium.
That advantage stretched to 33 points before Lions got on the scoreboard with a line-out leading to an opportunity for substitute Sylvian Mahuza to score.
However, there was no dramatic comeback by the Johannesburg outfit even though Cheetahs were twice reduced to 14 men when Ryno Benjamin and Paul Schoeman received yellow cards.
The home side scored three more tries through Benjamin, Clayton Blommetjies and Petersen to win by a far wider margin than even their most partisan supports would have dreamt of.
A neck injury that forced Lions prop Julian Redelinghuys to retire will be a concern for Springboks coach Allister Coetzee ahead of a four-match tour to England, Italy and Wales during November.
Province came to Loftus Versfeld stadium seeking a hat-trick of semi-final victories over Bulls having beaten them by five and eight points in the past two seasons.
After the two most successful Currie Cup teams, with 56 titles between them, scored a converted try each, Bulls’ Tian Schoeman slotted three penalties to create a nine-point gap.
That was trimmed to a 16-10 lead by half-time after rival playmaker Robert du Preez kicked a penalty.
Province led three times in the second half and Bulls twice before Van Zyl, a replacement for Springbok scrum-half Rudy Paige, struck the crucial blow.
When a Bulls’ surge was held up just short of the try-line, Van Zyl gained possession and evaded a tackle by fellow substitute Scott van Breda to score.
Schoeman converted from near the touchline to complete a perfect goal-kicking performance with eight consecutive successes from shots at the posts.
He also stretched his lead over Curwin Bosch of Sharks to 31 points in the race to finish leading scorer in the Currie Cup this season.
Du Preez, the son of a former Springboks scrum-half, was an equally impressive goal-kicker, slotting his six attempts between the posts.
© 2016 AFP
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