Cheetahs claim vital scalp
It was a battle royale, but in the end the Cheetahs claimed their second win over the defending champion Blue Bulls this season, by holding out for a 20-14 victory in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
In the end the home side deserved their victory as they defended particularly well in the second half, taking their chances when it counted while the Bulls will have to have a serious look at their decision-making which let them down in the end.
Cheetahs No 8 Ashley Johnson and midfielder Meyer Bosman were particularly clinical at the breakdown where time and again they snuffed out a good Bulls attack by stealing the unprotected ball at critical stages.
The victory lifts the Cheetahs to third spot behind the Sharks and Western Province, who both recorded victories this weekend, but their defeat leaves the Bulls under serious pressure, dropping to fifth as the season starts its final stretch.
The defending champions have a tough game against a resurgent Lions side at Loftus Versfeld next week, and this could well define their Currie Cup defence while the Cheetahs will travel to Durban for a date with the Sharks in an equally important fixture for both sides.
But if the Bulls are looking for a moment where they gave the Cheetahs an advantage, they have to look no further than the kickoff, where Phillip van der Walt rounded off one of the quickest tries in Currie Cup history, taking only 31 seconds to cross the line.
It was almost identical to the Super 14 encounter earlier this year in Bloemfontein where the Cheetahs also scored from the kickoff, but unlike that game where the Bulls rallied to win in the second half, there was no late fightback from this team.
The kickoff was transferred wide quickly, leaving speedster Jongi Nokwe with acres of space on the overlap, which he used to accelerate downfield before sending the ball inside to Meyer Bosman, who put Van der Walt over the line.
The shell-shocked Bulls hadn’t even had time to catch their breath, but to their credit, stormed right back into the game as they found possession from the next kickoff, took the ball through a number of phases before sending it wide, where veteran Jaco van der Westhuyzen stepped inside Tewis de Bruyn’s tackle to score.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter missed the conversion but added two more penalties to Louis Strydom’s one as the Bulls edged their noses ahead 11-10 on the half hour.
But then, as bizarre as it could be, a Potgieter penalty was referred to the TMO after even the commentators called it over, and Shaun Veldsman disallowed the kick, even though it seemed it had gone over. It brought back memories of 2007 where two touch judges were banned because they disallowed a conversion which cost the Blue Bulls the game, but in this instance, it would probably not have affected the final result.
The Cheetahs controlled most of the second half, and while the Bulls defended like demons, 34 phases later (and a couple of knock-ons missed), it was Hendro Scholtz who finally got his team’s reward for their patience to score what would be the match-winning try.
Potgieter brought the Bulls to within seven with a penalty in the 68th minute and from then on the Bulls attacked fearlessly, but were let down either by their own handling or failure to protect the ball.
The Cheetahs will rightly claim this as a handsome victory, but have their defence, composure and unbelievable tenacity to thank for it.
Cheetahs – tries: Phillip van der Walt, Hendro Scholtz. Conversions: Louis Strydom (2). Penalties: Strydom (2).
Blue Bulls – try: Jaco van der Westhuyzen. Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3).