Frans Steyn contributed 17 points as the Cheetahs thumped the Sharks 37-10 in Bloemfontein on Sunday.
With just two rounds of action remaining in the regular season, the Cheetahs have boosted their slender chance of playoff qualification with this unexpected win and welcome bonus-point.
As for the Sharks, they are still likely to make the knockout stage, but the door is rapidly closing on the possibility of them securing a home semi-final.
The Cheetahs were fully deserving of this victory. With the exception of a little period of ill-discipline, they were on top of their game in every facet. In particular it was Cheetahs’ dominance at the scrums and breakdowns that led to the Sharks’ undoing.
However, the visitors also have to take some of the blame for their struggles. They had several great transitions in open play, but poor handling and decision-making in the final third of the field cost them dearly.
In a blistering start, the hosts scored a converted try 30 seconds after the kick off when lock Carl Wegner powered over. The Sharks responded in kind before the five-minute mark when wing Yaw Penxe scored a fortuitous try and Curwin Bosch converted.
But that was their last points for quite some time as the Cheetahs slowly began to clinically build a commanding lead. In fact, the Cheetahs’ dominance was aided by the Sharks conceding eight penalties in the first half.
Steyn landed two booming penalties, including one from well within his own half and on the stroke of half-time, injury replacement Rhyno Smith bagged the Cheetahs’ third try on the stroke of half-time after scrumhalf Ruben de Haas took a quick tap.
Trailing 27-10 at the break, the Sharks started the second half with much greater intent and their attempt at launching a comeback was facilitated by the Cheetahs going down to 13 men soon after the restart when Rosko Specman and Boan Venter were sent to the sin bin for a cynical early tackle and a dangerous tackle to the head respectively.
After the issuing of the second yellow card, the Sharks set a 5m lineout thrice, but they were denied by staunch Cheetahs defence. And on the third attempted driving maul, Cheetahs No 8 Juandre Rudolph went through the middle and won possession for his side with a forced turnover.
From there, the Cheetahs worked their way towards the centre of the field and when the Sharks conceded another penalty, Steyn lined up and slotted his third penalty to extend their lead to 20 points.
Despite their misfortunes, the Sharks continued to create chances but with that they also continued to waste said chances. At the other end, Smith scuttled over for his second try that would ensure the Cheetahs claim a bonus-point win, but the try was disallowed due to a forward pass in the build-up.
Instead, the Cheetahs would go on to concede a third yellow card when flyhalf Reinhardt Fortuin was sent to the sin bin, but even then the Sharks couldn’t capitalise. As it turned out, both sides kept the ball alive well into stoppage time and it was the Cheetahs who secured possession from a counter-ruck to set up prop Venter for the bonus-point try, which Steyn converted.
Cheetahs – Tries: Carl Wegner, Marnus van der Merwe, Rhyno Smith, Boan Venter. Conversions: Frans Steyn (4). Penalties: Steyn (3).
Sharks – Try: Yaw Penxe. Conversion: Curwin Bosch. Penalty: Bosch.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 DriesS wanepoel, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Reinhardt Fortuin, 9 Rubende Haas, 8 Jeandre Rudolph, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Carl Wegner (c), 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Boan Venter.
Subs: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Cameron Dawson, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 George Cronje, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Sharks – 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 John Hubert-Meyer, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Khwezi Mona, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Werner Kok, 23 Aphelele Fassi.
Photo: Cheetah Rugby/Twitter