Cape Town - The Free State Cheetahs finished their season on a high when they claimed a deserved 36-16 win over the Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup Final in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The result earns the home side their first title since 2007 and also marks their 10th straight win this season.
In a tough and uncompromising encounter, played at a frenetic pace, the Cheetahs dominated from the outset and outscored their visitors by two tries to one.
Their first try was scored late in the second by Clayton Blommetjies but the Cheetahs' victory was set up by the accurate goalkicking of their flyhalf Niel Marais who contributed 21 points via seven penalties.
Both sides deserve credit for making this clash the entertaining spectacle that it was although the Bulls made far too many unforced errors and when it was within range, Marais punished them from the kicking tee.
Marais and Tian Schoeman traded early penalties but the visitors suffered a setback when Jamba Ulengo was sent to the sin-bin for slowing the ball down cynically at a breakdown deep inside the home side's half in the seventh minute.
Marais slotted the resulting penalty and added another three-pointer from the kicking tee in the 11th minute before Schoeman reduced the deficit with his second penalty shortly afterwards.
Marais then added another penalty in the 25th minute which gave his side a 15-6 lead and the two pivots landed a penalty apiece which meant the hosts were up 18-9 at half-time.
The second-half continued in similar fashion when Marais landed his seventh penalty in the 51st minute but the game came alive 10 minutes later when Blommetjies rounded off in the left-hand corner after Sergeal Petersen laid the groundwork with a superb run in the build-up.
Fred Zeilinga, who had replaced Marais by then, added the extras and when he landed a penalty five minutes later, Free State had the game in the bag.
To their credit, the Bulls didn't surrender and were rewarded when Piet van Zyl crossed the whitewash in the 73rd minute but the hosts would have the last laugh when Petersen rounded off a scintillating move in the right hand corner three minutes before the end.
Free State Cheetahs
Tries: Blommetjies, Petersen
Penalties: Marais (7), Zeilinga
Try: Van Zyl
Penalties: Schoeman 3
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 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Armandt Koster, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Rayno Benjamin, 23 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
Replacements: 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