The Highlanders beat the Cheetahs 45-24 in Bloemfontein to cap off a miserable weekend for South African teams. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
With the Vodacom Bulls, Sharks and Lions having lost their matches, it was left to the Cheetahs to salvage something from round 14, but they were blown away by a ruthless Highlanders side that led 38-3 after 43 minutes. The bonus-point win takes the Dunedin-based franchise to fifth on the combined log.
The Cheetahs did score three tries in the final quarter to add some respectability to the scoreline, but by that stage the visitors had taken their foot off the pedal knowing that the five log points were secure.
It was a disappointing night for the injury-plagued Cheetahs, who suffered another setback just before kick-off when skipper Francois Uys was moved to the bench due to a bout of flu, with Steven Sykes coming into the second row and Francois Venter taking over the captaincy.
It took the Highlanders just four minutes to score their first try when Lima Sopoaga's cross-kick was collected by rugby league convert Ryan Tongia, in for the injured Waisake Naholo.
Francois Brummer got the Cheetahs on the board with a penalty before Tongia scored his second try, collecting his own chip kick.
An outstanding offload from Nasi Manu then resulted in a try for Aaron Smith in the left-hand corner, and Patrick Osborne secured the bonus point on the half-hour mark when he chased down Ben Smith's kick ahead.
Things went from bad to worse for the Cheetahs at the start of the second half when Raymond Rhule was yellow-carded for tackling Osborne in the air.
The Highlanders would score two tries while he was in the bin, with Aaron Smith darting over from close range for his second and Gareth Evans rounding off a long-range attack after the Cheetahs had lost possession.
Things continued to go wrong for the hosts when Clayton Blommetjies had his breakaway try denied when the TMO correctly ruled he had received a forward pass.
But the hosts did cross the line soon after when a good offload from Willie Britz in the tackle put Rayno Benjamin over in the corner.
That was followed by tries from Carl Wegner and Venter, before the Highlanders scored their seventh through Ben Smith.
Cheetahs – Tries: Rayno Benjamin, Carl Wegner, Francois Venter. Conversion: Francois Brummer (3). Penalty: Brummer.
Highlanders – Tries: Ryan Tongia (2), Aaron Smith (2), Patrick Osborne, Gareth Evan, Ben Smith. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (4), Marty Banks.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Steven Sykes, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Mienie.
Subs: 16 BG Uys, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Francois Uys (c), 20 Carel Greeff, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Coenie van Wyk, 23 Raymond Rhule.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Ryan Tongia, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 John Hardie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Dan Pryor, 22 Fumiaki Tanaka, 23 Marty Banks.
Photo: Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix