The Cheetahs suffered a setback in their hunt for the Pro14 playoffs after being handed a 41-13 defeat by Zebre in Parma on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
In their first game back after a break stretching back to the end of November, the Cheetahs struggled to find any rhythm in their play despite a promising start to the match. The visitors certainly played like they were coming off a long break, as they were far too passive on defence and too many passes went floating into touch.
Zebre found it much too easy to shut down the Cheetahs’ attack in the first half, while adjusting to wet and muddy conditions far better, allowing them to make significant inroads themselves.
After hooker Wilmar Arnoldi crossed for the opening try for the visitors, the first half belonged to the Italian side, who got their first try through wing Charlie Walker before flyhalf Carlo Canna added a conversion and two penalties. Flank Johan Meyer then scored a try to take the hosts into a 12-point lead at the break.
A fast response from @ZebreRugby 🦓
An early lead for @CheetahsRugby quickly disappeared as Walker finds space and finishes in the corner 💪
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 4, 2020
It got even better for Zebre as scrumhalf Josh Renton found too much space close to the tryline, allowing him to snipe around a ruck and score. The introduction of a fresh halfback pair in Ruan Pienaar and Tian Schoeman saw momentum shift to the Cheetahs as they got back into the match through a try in the corner from Tian Meyer.
However, the result was all but sealed as a beautifully worked move from a five-metre lineout saw Walker go over for his brace.
The defeat leaves the Cheetahs in fourth position in Conference A, with nine sides including the Glasgow Warriors, Ulster and Leinster all above them. Hawies Fourie’s charges next face a South African derby against the Kings in Port Elizabeth on 25 January.
Zebre – Tries: Charlie Walker (2), Johan Meyer, Josh Renton, Giulio Bisegni. Conversions: Carlo Canna (5). Penalties: Canna (2)
Cheetahs – Tries: Wilmar Arnoldi, Tian Meyer. Penalty: George Whitehead.
Photo: Stefano Delfrate