Cheetahs, Bulls ponder health
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Points gained or points frittered away? Reasonably satisfied handshakes at the final whistle or more like that ill-desired kiss for your sister?
Those were the kinds of thoughts probably occupying the minds of the Absa Currie Cup protagonists in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening, where the Cheetahs and Blue Bulls played out a tense 22-22 draw.
It was just the second stalemate of the campaign, following a 26-26 result between Western Province and Griquas at Newlands on the opening weekend back in mid-July.
The outcome did see the Cheetahs stay in fourth spot and inch two points clear of neighbours Griquas, who had been comfortably beaten on Friday night by a Lions side still holding the top-of-table aces by five points from Province after both teams earned expected full houses this weekend.
But Naka Drotske’s charges would also have so rued allowing the Bulls a dramatic share of the spoils as late as the 82nd minute, when the unpredictable Louis Fouche nailed an impressively high-pressure, long-range penalty to square things up after the visitors had always previously trailed in the key encounter.
The Cheetahs must have felt, for the vast majority of the clash, that they had done enough to win, yet at least made some minor, log-points “progress” in their quest to make the semi-finals despite annoyingly surrendering two at the death.
Similarly nursing bittersweet thoughts, however, would have been the Bulls, who arguably needed a victory with greater urgency, considering their more parlous position in the semis chase – their own two points gained sees them still five points shy of a possible slot in the top four, and a massive 17 adrift of the unrelenting Lions now.
Also to chew on in the respective dressing rooms as the dust settled at Free State Stadium was that both teams have stiff fixtures next week: the Cheetahs entertain the third-placed Sharks in what is always a needle affair, while the Bulls host Province in the time-honoured north versus south slugfest.
Something for the Bulls to take heart from was that they showed enough ticker to get out of the proverbial jailhouse on Saturday: they had been an ominous 19-9 down with around half an hour to go and still making maddening basic errors or falling foul of referee Marius Jonker at the breakdown (their old bugbear) to impede their rhythm.
So not going home empty-handed was a decent enough outcome, coupled with the fact that a victory over WP at Loftus would enormously revitalize their quest for to reach the knockout phase.
That is because the Bulls’ ordinary-season run-in is more favourable on paper than most: while the Lions away remains a potentially nasty hurdle for them, they end their programme with matches against the Pumas, Griquas and Leopards respectively.
“Crisis”, then, can be a relative concept, and also a surprisingly short-lived one in sport.
Back on the Bloemfontein scrap, perhaps the most tormented individual afterwards would have been the Cheetahs’ Baby Bok flyhalf Johan Goosen, who had seemed a slightly surprising retention ahead of Sias Ebersohn -- but enormously justified Drotske’s faith in him on the day.
Apart from kicking flawlessly off the tee and rightly earning some “new De Wet Ras?” suggestions from veteran commentator Hugh Bladen as the youthful customer nonchalantly banged over one from 61 metres, Goosen was also responsible for the beautiful, clean break that led to the Cheetahs’ only try for substitute second-rower Wilhelm Steenkamp.
But this game was so infested with a “mixed fortunes” characteristic that it couldn’t have come as too much of a surprise that the man of the match was reluctantly forced from the field with cramp in the final quarter … when the Bulls’ rearguard action clicked into place.
Next week’s fixtures:
Friday: Leopards v Lions, Potchefstroom
Saturday: Cheetahs v Sharks, Bloemfontein; Griquas v Pumas, Kimberley; Blue Bulls v Western Province, Pretoria.