Van Zyl steals victory for Cheetahs
Replacement scrumhalf Piet van Zyl scored an epic try after the hooter to give the Toyota Cheetahs a magnificent last-gasp 33-26 victory over the Melbourne Rebels on Sunday morning.
In a game where the Cheetahs surrendered a 20-7 lead and looked to have shot themselves in the foot by allowing the home side back in the match, it took some stern resolve at the end and a never-say-die attitude to finally get their first win of the season after coming close against the Lions and Brumbies.
In both those games the Cheetahs lost with penalties after the hooter, but this time around it was their turn to win in the final moments as they strung together 17 phases from their own 22 in a move that carried on for two minutes and 31 seconds before Ashley Johnson made some ground and popped the pass to a flying Sias Ebersohn.
Ebersohn made some ground but was perfectly supported by Van Zyl, who changed the angle and beat Marc Gerrard in a sprint to break the deadlock and finally give the Cheetahs fans something to smile about.
For a long time though it looked as if the Cheetahs would throw away a healthy 20-7 lead as they dropped behind 26-23 late in the second half, and allowed themselves to be rattled by some great play by the Rebels in the second half.
But with captain Adriaan Strauss a monster in getting go-forward ball, and their bench making a significant impact in the second half, the Bloemfontein side showed that they may not always have the street smarts to win games, but they certainly lack nothing in guts.
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After the way they lost against the Brumbies last week, they will feel vindicated and look forward to heading across the antipodes to New Zealand now to face the Crusaders on Saturday.
However, it could all have been so different had they not found their passion in the final moments, especially after it looked as if they were heading for a loss after giving up the big lead.
That lead came as the Cheetahs started off the match as the better side, with their first move leading to a try in the third minute. After breaching the Rebels' defence on the left flank, recycled ball was swept back to Willie le Roux on the opposite wing where he beat two defenders to open their score.
But the home side hit back just five minutes later as captain Gareth Delve dived over from a good rolling maul, to bring his team level.
Le Roux’s try-scoring abilities were again highlighted when he played his timing perfectly to intercept a floating pass from James O’Connor and put the Cheetahs in front again.
Two penalties by Johan Goosen stretched that scoreline to 13 points before Le Roux was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knockdown that prevented a try to Richard Kingi. Replays showed he was trying to intercept the ball, but the Cheetahs conceded three points from the 50-50 call and managed to hold out until halftime with a 20-10 scoreline.
In the second half the Rebels brought on Danny Cipriani, and played a lot more direct, feeding off their two playmakers and were immediately rewarded when O’Connor knocked over another penalty.
The Cheetahs seemed to panic, as the Rebels stepped up their play, dominating possession and advancing on the Cheetahs' tryline with ease. It was no surprise then when O’Connor finally found himself in space, stepping three players to go over untouched and bring the teams level.
A penalty each saw the scores advance to 23-all before a bit of frustration turned into madness as Le Roux retreated to field a ball and stepped into touch, then kicked the ball away and was penalised for it, allowing O’Connor to put the Rebels into the lead.
The Cheetahs didn’t give up, and a great break by Robert Ebersohn saw them pick up another penalty as the Rebels attempted to kill the quick ball, with Goosen taking no time to level the scores again.
The Rebels pressed hard for the victory, but a turnover inside their own 22 gave the Cheetahs hope. They ensured they kept the ball alive through the 17 phases, and finally were given a just reward for their efforts as they found a hole.
The Cheetahs' win ensured the Rebels' losing streak stretched to 12, matching their own worst record, but after being robbed in Australia last week, the boys from Bloem will attest that being on the right side of the scoreline is so much better.
The celebrations showed it, and were just reward for their efforts.
Rebels – Tries: Adam Freier, James O`Connor. Conversion: James O`Connor(2). Penalties: James O’Connor(4)
Cheetahs –Tries: Willie Le Roux(2), Piet van Zyl. Conversions: Johan Goosen(3). Penalty: Johan Goosen(4).