Cheetahs fightback ends with a whimper
The Crusaders christened their new stadium with a hard-fought 28-21 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Toyota Cheetahs Saturday, in a game which ended in such bizarre fashion.
Having fought themselves back into a position to draw the game, the Cheetahs decided, either through a rush of blood, or just the inability to fight any longer, to kick the ball out while in possession after the hooter had gone.
It was a massive anticlimax as the Bloemfontein side had shown guts, determination and heart to get themselves in with a shot of their best performance in New Zealand, but then almost decided through flyhalf Johan Goosen that they were happy with just a bonus point out of the game.
It made one wonder if that was not the preconceived idea before the game, that the Cheetahs had perhaps written this one off, and were content to leave Christchurch with just a point for their efforts.
Still, it overshadowed a passionate performance that had all the hallmarks of a classic Cheetah fightback, even though they were again on the receiving end of some bizarre calls by referee Keith Brown and were their own worst enemy at times, allowing the Crusaders more space than they should have for long periods of the game.
It was a Crusaders side which was surprisingly average, with the emotion of the new stadium perhaps getting to them as they continued to be far from the quality outfit we know them to be.
The Cheetahs suffered early on in the scrums, with prop Lourens Adriaanse limping off early on, and the Crusaders enjoying a plethora of dominance at the setpiece. In the second half they seemed to be favoured when things reverted to uncontested scrums after Trevor Nyakane went off, but in the end it came back to bite them as the Crusaders' final try, just four minutes from the end, was made easier by the pressure being off the setpiece.
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Just four minutes before Goosen’s kick of madness, it was left for Israel Dagg to run the ball in after the Cheetahs defence had been stretched to its limit and the overlap created with ease.
The Dagg try broke the stalemate that existed after the Cheetahs fought back from 18-3 down to draw level at 21-all as the final quarter began. In the process they scored one of the tries of the season and showed that the Crusaders are still vulnerable when teams get momentum going their way.
It all felt so unreal for the Cheetahs as they were under the kosh from the first scrum, where they conceded their first penalty and even though they held the Crusaders for the first half hour, it seemed inevitable as the home side scored either side of the break to create their ascendancy.
It was Robbie Fruean who was prominent in both tries as his linebreak allowed Sean Maitland to cross before halftime, and his wide angled run in the second swept him past Goosen for a well-worked try early in the second.
At 18-3 up it looked like it was to be one-way traffic, but a sensational try from their own tryline brought the Cheetahs back into the game. Started by Robert Ebersohn off a turnover, Johan Goosen ran the ball out and combined perfectly with Willie le Roux and Andries Strauss, who passed back inside for some great interplay to Goosen who went over in the corner.
Goosen pulled back another penalty before Ebersohn found some space on the opposite end of the field to go in at the corner and bring his side within three.
Two minutes later the flyhalf made no mistake getting things back on level terms as he popped over a penalty to bring the scores level.
But the Cheetahs couldn’t hold out, eventually succumbing to the Crusaders onslaught as the clock ticked down.
It seemed they would fight until the end, and eventually found some ball to work with, even though it was within their own half. A few phases later and the Cheetahs were looking for openings, when the ball was passed back to Goosen to continue the attack.
But the mild manner in which he ended the fightback betrayed the hard work of the previous 80 minutes. And left his teammates stunned and silenced as the final whistle went.
Crusaders - Tries: Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Israel
Dagg; Conversions: Tom Taylor (2); Penalties: Taylor (3)
Cheetahs - Tries: Johan Goosen, Sias Ebersohn; Conversion:
Goosen; Penalties: Goosen (3)