The Cheetahs surrendered a 10-point lead to slump to a 25-20 defeat against the Cardiff Blues at the Arms Parks on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The Bloemfontein-based franchise gained a reputation in Super Rugby for blowing big leads and they imploded again in this Pro14 fixture.
The Cheetahs made a strong start to the game. A scrum penalty enabled them to set a 5m lineout and from there prop Ox Nche bulldozed his way through the traffic and over the line for a try. Fred Zeilinga kicked the conversion and added a penalty as the visitors went 10-0 up.
But they then lost their set-piece dominance and let themselves down on defence. Cardiff made them pay, scoring 15 unanswered points.
Tries from wing Lee Rey-Lo and flank Ellis Jenkins put the hosts ahead for the first time, before a penalty extended that advantage. Jenkins’ try came after the Cheetahs had lost lock Rynier Bernardo to the sin bin for a deliberate infringement.
The Cheetahs’ ball protection was poor in the second half. They were easily stripped of possession in the tackle, inviting the Blues’ lethal backline to counter-attack.
Zeilinga reduced the gap to two points when he nailed another penalty, but on the 50-minute mark – after a long sequence of bashing away at the Cheetahs’ line – No 8 Nick Williams powered his way over and was awarded the try even though replays showed the ball might have been ripped away in the in-goal area by centre Nico Lee.
The Cheetahs responded with a try from No 8 Uzair Cassiem, but Blues flyhalf Jarrod Evans struck a penalty to put his side ahead by five.
The Free Staters had two chances to snatch a win in the dying moments of the match, with lineouts on the 5m line, but on both occasions, the Blues desperately repelled their attack and a knock-on ended the game.
The Cheetahs remain third in Conference A, with the fourth-placed Blues now 12 points behind them.
Cardiff Blues – Tries: Rey Lee-Lo, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams. Conversions: Jarrod Evans (2). Penalties: Evans (2).
Cheetahs – Tries: Ox Nche, Uzair Cassiem. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (2). Penalties: Zeilinga (2).
Cardiff Blues – 15 Rhun Williams; 14 Aled Summerhill, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Owen Lane; 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Seb Davies, 4 George Earle, 3 Anton Peikrishvili, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Subs: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 Josh Turnbull, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Dan Fish, 23 Ryan Edwards.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 Francois Venter (C), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Sibhale Maxwano, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld,1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Malcolm Jaer.
Photo: Huw Evans Images