RUGBY NEWS - Former Springbok Ruan Pienaar starred as the Free State Cheetahs scored six second-half tries to defeat defending champions the Sharks 51-30 on Saturday in a South African Currie Cup semi-final.
The Cheetahs will host the final next Saturday against the Golden Lions, whose set-piece superiority set up a 34-19 victory over the Griquas in the other semi-final in Johannesburg.
Scrum-half Pienaar, who was part of three Springbok Rugby World Cup squads including the 2007 trophy winners, returned to South Africa recently after playing in Ireland and France for nine years.
A quick lineout throw on 58 minutes in Bloemfontein set in motion a move that caught the Sharks napping and Pienaar converted his try to level the semi-final at 23 points each.
Pienaar, who took over as goal kicker after Tian Schoeman missed two conversions, finished as the Cheetahs' leading points scorer with 15 and was voted man of the match by the media.
"It was a tough match and we made it difficult for ourselves in the opening half by wasting several good try scoring opportunities," said the 35-year-old who played 88 Tests for South Africa.
"We fought hard in the second half and I am proud to be part of this really special team. I was impressed by how calm they were at half-time even though we were nine points behind.
"Retaining possession was a key part of our second-half strategy and we achieved that goal. We were also much more clinical than in the first half.
"Now, we must prepare from Monday to face a really good Lions side in the final. Scoring 51 points tonight was great but we have to keep our feet firmly on the ground."
The Cheetahs went ahead for the first time just two minutes after Pienaar scored when Joseph Dweba notched his sixth try this season in a competition first staged 128 years ago.
Curwin Bosch restored equality at 30-30 by converting his try, but that was the last time the Sharks scored as the Cheetahs ran in three converted tries for an impressive triumph.
The late scoring spree began on 70 minutes when Junior Pokomela claimed his second try of the match and there were further scores from Ox Nche and Jasper Wiese.
In Johannesburg, the Lions tormented the Griquas in the scrums to lay the foundations for an impressive victory after leading 21-13 at half-time.
It was former Griquas loose forward Marnus Schoeman who buried the hopes of his previous team winning the Currie Cup for the first time in 49 years when he scored 76th-minute pushover try.
Shaun Reynolds kicked 14 points for the Lions to remain the leading Currie Cup scorer this season with 85.