A weakened Munster side inflicted a 30-26 defeat on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Sunday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The result sees Munster maintain their perfect record against the Cheetahs, having also won the previous three fixtures.
Munster were by no means at full strength for this clash. Coach Johann van Graan had to make do without their Test players, who are with Ireland, while they were missing several regular starters through injury.
But the Munster reserves’ task was made easier by the wasteful, fatigued-looking Cheetahs, who were playing their third match in eight days.
It was a poor game all round. Munster didn’t play with any conviction and mostly pounced on the opposition’s mistakes. The Cheetahs made all the attacking plays, but spurned three clear try-scoring opportunities in the first half and another early in the second. It was only in the last quarter of the match that the Cheetahs’ execution improved.
A penalty and a try from former Springbok No 8 Arno Botha gave Munster an eight-point lead. As the Cheetahs tried to make inroads on the scoreboard, the referee lost his patience with Munster for repeated infringements and sent flank Chris Cloete to the sin bin. The Cheetahs immediately benefited when hooker Joseph Dweba crossed from the back of a rolling maul.
A lapse of concentration in defence then cost the Cheetahs as hooker Kevin O’Brien barged over to extend Munster’s lead to 15-5 at the break.
The game opened up in the second half as the teams scored a combined total of five tries.
Munster looked to be pulling away when debutant wing Liam Coombes went over to score. But going behind 22-5 awakened the Cheetahs. The hosts notched up 21 unanswered points thanks to converted tries by front rankers Ox Nche and Dweba, and another by Rhyno Smith.
Suddenly Munster found themselves trailing 26-22 with 15 minutes remaining. They patiently worked towards the 22 and kept the ball in among the forwards. That sucked in the Cheetahs defenders and Munster simply spread it wide where fullback Mike Healy ran in unopposed.
The easy conversion was skewed, leaving the game on a knife’s edge at 27-26. But the visitors put the Cheetahs away with a long-range penalty.
There was one last opportunity for the Cheetahs when quick two penalties saw them set a lineout 5m out from the tryline. But again, a handling error stopped their movement. All Munster had to do was secure the possession from the scrum and kick it out and they did exactly that.
Cheetahs – Tries: Joseph Dweba (2), Ox Nche, Rhyno Smith. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (2).
Munster – Tries: Arno Botha, Kevin O’Byrne, Liam Coombes, Mike Haley. Conversions: Bill Johnston (2). Penalty: Johnston, Rory Scannell.
Cheetahs – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Shaun Venter (c), 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 Sinthu Manjezi/Justin Basson, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Abongile Nonkontwana, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Louis Fouche.
Munster – 15 Mike Haley; 14 Liam Coombes, 13 Shane Daly, 12 Tyler Bleyendaal (c), 11 Alex Wootton; 10 Bill Johnston, 9 Alby Mathewson, Arno Botha, 7 Chris Cloete, 6 Fineen Wycherley, 5 Darren O’Shea, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Stephen Archer, 2 Kevin O’Byrne, 1 James Cronin.
Subs: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Jeremy Loughman, 18 John Ryan, 19 Sean O’Connor, 20 Gavin Coombes, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 Ian Keatley, 23 Rory Scannell.