The sky blue seats in the East Stand glared with intent in the Highveld’s late afternoon sun at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
As you can deduce, a great many weren’t occupied, partly because of events with weightier significance elsewhere, but mostly because of the growing perception that the Currie Cup has lost its shine.
It is true that few contests in this year’s instalment have had the unremitting intensity and energy of seasons long gone, but the competition still provides its fair share of thrills and spills.
The error ridden but exhilarating passage of play that ended with replacement Rosko Specman trying to run out of his own goal area before relenting with a poor touch finder with 12 minutes to go, said it all.
It was a match of gaffes and guffaws, or fun and farce.
The Blue Bulls and the Cheetahs would have been forgiven for extracting the see-saw’s splinters from their backsides at final whistle after the lead had changed hands on eight occasions.
Who won you may ask, and that in itself is a long tale. After sustained pressure the Cheetahs scored in the 85th minute when their star import Makazole Mapimpi crashed over in the left hand corner. Given both team’s lack of application in the tackle, perhaps a deuce scoreline would have been more fitting.
As has been a theme in this season’s competition porous defence was again the order of the day. It meant slick operators on either side like Mapimpi, Warrick Gelant, Sergeal Petersen, Rocko Specman, William Small-Smith and Jamba Ulengo found space and opportunity aplenty.
While Mapimpi’s first half effort when he jinked and sped away from four defenders was the undoubted highlight in that half, he owed his second after the break to his persistence and a deplorable lack of awareness and application by Tony Jantjies and Gelant.
Jantjies would have walked off with the sinking feeling that he had two eminently goalable conversions charged down. The four points cost the Bulls.
Two opening half yellow cards also undermined the Bulls. Left wing Ulengo’s eyes widened as referee Marius van der Westhuizen pulled a red card from his pocket, only to quickly replace it with a yellow before the damage was done. Ulengo’s banished for repeated team offences ended just as flanker Shaun Adendorff got his marching orders in the seconds leading up to half-time.
It was a half in which neither side asserted themselves but got traction from the other’s mistakes.
The Cheetahs despite a 30kg weight disadvantage among their forwards had the better of the scrums with loosehead Ox Nche firmly coming to grips with his Conraad van Vuuren.
The Cheetahs squandered a number of try scoring opportunities. They didn’t lack enterprise but at times they were short of conviction with the tryline at their mercy.
One glaring example occurred in the first half when after some splendid interplay between backs and forwards down the right hand touchline, flank Gerhard Olivier didn’t run onto what was supposed to be a try assist pass. The was hauled in from behind and held up by Nic de Jager. De Jager had one of his better afternoons at Loftus.
In the final analysis, this was a match that was breathtakingly dazzling, as it was soul destroyingly infuriating.
BLUE BULLS (21) 40
Tries: Jamba Ulengo (2), Dries Swanepoel, Tony Jantjies, Warrick Gelant
Conversion: Jantjies2), Joshua Stander
Penalties: Jantjies (3)
FREE STATE CHEETAHS (17) 41
Tries: Makazole Mapimpi (3), Jasper Wiese, Francois Venter, Sergeal Petersen. Conversions: Ryno Eksteen (4). Penalty: Eksteen