The Cheetahs sealed a 19-17 victory over the Vodacom Bulls in Bloemfontein on Friday to continue their positive start in the Super Rugby Unlocked tournament.
The Bulls had the chance to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat after replacement hooker Joe van Zyl barged over from a driving maul, but Chris Smith skewed the conversion that would have locked the scores up at 19-19, thus allowing the Cheetahs to come away with a narrow, but much-deserved win.
In the light of their respective performances in round one last week as well as the Cheetahs’ recent axing from PRO Rugby, the result of this clash is massive for the hosts, and one that spoke volumes for the character of the side.
Coming into this clash, the Cheetahs had made a statement with bonus-point win over the Pumas, while the Bulls survived a right scare against Griquas as they battled to a narrow win.
In a frenetic yet entertaining opening period, these teams combined to provide end-to-end action, but neither was able to apply the finishing touches.
And because of that, the highlights of the opening 20 minutes were overshadowed by serious-looking injuries to Bulls fullback Gio Aplon, who was hurt after he was on the receiving end of a big hit from Clayton Blommetjies, and Cheetahs scrumalf and captain Ruan Pienaar, who sustained a knee injury.
After trading successful kicks at goal, the Cheetahs – who had dictated the pace of the game up to that point – scored a stunning try off a set move. From a lineout, the ball was swiftly shifted to the backline, where a few deceptive running lines bamboozled the Bulls defence and resulted in Rosko Specman galloping over without any resistance.
To the Bulls’ dismay, the fact that they didn’t make the best use of their territory and possession, proved even more costly as the Cheetahs added three more points to their tally for a 13-3 scoreline.
Reemerging for the second half, the Cheetahs would have been the far happier of the two sides and it showed on the field.
The Cheetahs suddenly dominated at the scrums, while the Bulls completely came apart at the seams. After Morne Steyn had slotted a penalty, the visitors’ discipline disintegrated and the Cheetahs took full advantage with Tian Schoeman opening up a 13-point lead via the boot.
Adding further insult to injury, referee Cwengile Jadezweni lost patience with the Bulls for their repeated infringements and gave lock Ruan Nortjie a yellow card. But against all expectations, the yellow card appeared to galvanise the Bulls rather than deter.
They wrestled the momentum from the Cheetahs and nailed two consecutive penalties to reduce the deficit to seven, setting up a grandstand finish. As it turned out, the Bulls reverted to type, using their forwards to overpower the Cheetahs.
Ultimately they had to settle for a losing bonus-point, though, after Smith’s missed conversion attempt. They will rue that particular play, but overall it was just too little too late for the Bulls.
Cheetahs – Try: Rosko Specman. Conversion: Tian Schoeman. Penalties: Schoeman (4).
Bulls – Try: Joe van Zyl. Penalties: Morne Steyn (3), Chris Smith.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Malcolm Jaer, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar (c), 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Aidon Davis, 21 Chris Massyn, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 William Small-Smith.
Bulls – 15 Gio Aplon, 14 David Kriel, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Joe van Zyl, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Stedman Gans.
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images