Cape Town - The general consensus is that the Free State Cheetahs will go into Saturday’s Currie Cup final against the Blue Bulls as favourites, but a quick glance through the history books suggests the men from Bloemfontein should not underestimate their opponents.
The Cheetahs have been the form team in this year’s Currie Cup Premier Division, winning all eight their round-robin matches, as well as their 55-17 semi-final victory over the Golden Lions.
They also thumped the Bulls 43-20 in Bloemfontein earlier in the season and following last weekend’s heroics, most pundits are predicting a victory for Franco Smith’s men.
The Bulls eked out a 36-30 semi-final win over Western Province, but will be buoyed by the fact that they’ve won their last five games.
It will be both teams’ first Currie Cup final since they contested the 2009 showpiece at Loftus Versfeld - which the Bulls won 36-24.
History also favours the Bulls, with the men from Pretoria winning seven of the nine finals between the teams over the years.
Northern Transvaal, as the Bulls were then called, dominated South African rugby in the 1970s and beat Orange Free State in four Currie Cup finals in that decade. The Free Staters were the second strongest team in the country back then, and claimed their first Currie Cup title when they beat Western Province 33-16 in the 1976 final in Bloemfontein.
There was more success for the Bulls against Free State in 1981 in Pretoria but it would take 23 years before the teams again contested for the coveted trophy.
Heyneke Meyer’s men won the 2004 final at Loftus 42-33, before Rassie Erasmus’ Cheetahs stunned the country the following year when they upset the Bulls 29-25, also in Pretoria.
The Bulls were heavy favourites for that game and looked certain winners when they led 25-15 late in the game, only to see the Cheetahs score two quick tries to secure their second Currie Cup title.
The following year, the teams again contested the final, but could not be separated as the honours were shared following a 28-all draw after extra time in Bloemfontein.
In all, the Blue Bulls have won 23 Currie Cups (four shared), while the Cheetahs have won four (one shared).
Western Province lead the overall tally with 33 titles (four shared).
Blue Bulls v Free State in Currie Cup finals:
1973: Northern Transvaal 30-22 Orange Free State
1975: Orange Free State 6-12 Northern Transvaal
1977: Northern Transvaal 27-12 Orange Free State
1978: Orange Free State 9-13 Northern Transvaal
1981: Northern Transvaal 21-6 Orange Free State
2004: Blue Bulls 42-33 Free State Cheetahs
2005: Blue Bulls 25-29 Free State Cheetahs
2006: Free State Cheetahs 28-28 Blue Bulls
2009: Blue Bulls 36-24 Free State Cheetahs
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Substitutes: Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche, Armandt Koster, Henco Venter, Tian Meyer, Fred Zeilinga, Rayno Benjamin, Conrad van Vuuren
15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Arno Botha (captain), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Roelof Smit, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Martin Dreyer, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Nic de Jager, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 Bjorn Basson