Even extra-time could not separate the Vodacom Cheetahs and Vodacom Bulls as a titanic Absa Currie Cup final ended in a 28-all draw.
The match typified the tight, abrasive nature of most finals, as both packs sought to gain the early ascendancy by means of tremendous intensity in the tight and loose exchanges
The Cheetahs dominated significant periods of the first-half, mixing their avenues of attack between their hard-working pack and dangerous backline.
Space to run was at a premium as the defensive lines of both sides proved impenetrable early on. It was thus no surprise that the prolific boots of Willem De Waal and Derick Hougaard opened the scoring for their sides, the latterâ€™s 20th minute penalty coming in response to two earlier De Waal efforts.
Contrary to midweek assertions by their management, the Bulls were by far the more conservative side, as much of their attacking gameplan revolved around Hougaard looking to put pressure on the Cheetahs back-three through a series of up-and-unders.
The defending champions though showed attacking intent whenever the opportunity to give the ball air presented itself, and in the 29th minute sent their orange army into raptures with a sensational long-range try.
Man-of-the-Match, Kabamba Floors broke the defensive line after collecting the restart, following De Waalâ€™s third penalty. The blond dynamo barged through a couple of tackles before offloading to Richardt Strauss who in turn sent Phillip Burger searing away for his fourth try in two matches against the Bulls.
But poor cleaning at the breakdown eight minutes later allowed the Bulls to draw within six points. Derick Kuun, in his only meaningful contribution of the first half, turned over possession and exposed an unstructured Cheetahs defence. Heini Adams exploited the blindside and sent Marius Delport sprinting down the touchline. He dished a pass inside to JP Nel who, aided by some woeful tackling, ran in for the five pointer just before the break.
The Bulls were clearly buoyed by the try, and came out with renewed attacking intent in the second half. They however got off to the worst possible start when Johan Roets was sin binned for a late tackle on Burger. That disappointment was quickly replaced by elation when Delport collected a deft chip from Morne Steyn, on as a replacement for Hougaard, to make it a one point game.
De Waal and Steyn traded penalty blows but it took a Floors try to ignite hopes of a title defence for the Bloemfontein-based side. Sublime vision by De Waal saw him play the short side after a backline move had lost momentum. Quick hands capitalised on a numbers advantage and all that remained was for the former Sevens star to step inside Roets. De Waal missed the conversion but gave his side a seven point buffer with a penalty making the score 25-18.
An almighty onslaught on the Cheetahs tryline ensued, and the hosts repelled wave-after-wave of attack before a depleted defence allowed Nel in for his second touchdown five minutes from the siren. Steyn showed nerves of steel to convert and sent the game in extra-time.
He then sent his side into a three point lead before Meyer Bosmanâ€™s 50 metre attempt to restore parity struck the post and Cheetahs centre, JW Jonker coughed up a gilt-edged opportunity to score.
Rassie Erasmus descended from the Vodacom Park roof in a bid to provide the impetus his side so desperately needed to win the match and his talismanic presence seemed to magically will another long range effort from Bosman through the posts.
Both sides tried in vain to score but ultimately nothing could separate them and the Currie Cup was shared. This is perhaps a disappointing result but on the balance of play, perhaps the most reflective of the match in its entirety.
By Ryan Vrede
Cheetahs â€“ Tries: Burger, Floors. Penalties: De Waal (5), Bosman.
Bulls â€“ Tries: Nel (2), Delport. Conversion: Steyn. Penalties: Hougaard, Steyn.
Yellow cards: Roets (42min), Scholtz (52min).