It was an entertaining clash, in which a total of 11 tries were scored – four by the Cell C Sharks and seven by the hosts, with five of those in a powerful second-half charge.
Next Saturday’s final will mark the Toyota Free State Cheetahs’ first appearance in the grand finale since 2016.
The first half was action-packed, with four tries being scored – three by the Cell C Sharks and one by the hosts, which saw the visitors take an encouraging 20-11 halftime lead.
The KwaZulu-Natalians showed their intent from the outset, with flyhalf Curwin Bosch scoring their first try in the second minute after a smart grubber kick and fantastic support play.
The hosts hit back with a productive spell in which they kicked two penalty goals compliments of flyhalf Tian Schoeman and scored a try by flanker, Junior Pokomela, who gathered a stunning long pass from scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, which pushed them into an 11-7 lead.
The Cell C Sharks, however, dominated as the half progressed with Junior Springbok scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba snapping up the ball from a wobbly pass for their second try, which they backed up with a penalty goal by Bosch.
Springbok winger Lwazi Mvovo added their third try two minutes before halftime as he gathered a perfectly-timed switch pass, which saw the visitors enter the break 20-11 ahead.
Bosch extended the Cell C Sharks’ lead with a penalty goal early in the second half, but the Toyota Free State Cheetahs showed their fighting spirit with a try by winger William Small-Smith minutes later as he twisted his way through a tackle and dotted down the ball to reduce their deficit to seven points.
This fuelled the hosts’ determination to force their way back into the lead and they did just that with Pienaar and Joseph Dweba (hooker) scoring within minutes of one another from sharp passes by Clayton Blommetjies (fullback), which pushed them 30-23 ahead.
The Cell C Sharks, however, struck back with Bosch touching down for the second time thanks to a brilliant dummy pass, but the home side cancelled this out as Pokomela dived in for his second try after they spread the ball wide.
The Toyota Free State Cheetahs continued to make their presence felt in the dying minutes, with prop Ox Nche and Jasper Wiese forcing their way through the defence with powerful runs, which sealed a rewarding 51-30 victory for the home side and a rewarding home final.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs 51 (11) - Tries: Junior Pokomela (2), William Small-Smith, Ruan Pienaar, Joseph Dweba, Ox Nche, Jasper Wiese. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (5). Penalty Goals: Tian Schoeman (2).
Cell C Sharks 30 (20) – Tries: Curwin Bosch (2), Sanele Nohamba, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalty Goals: Curwin Bosch (2).