Cheetahs find their mojo and get on the board
CURRIE CUP MATCH REPORT: The Cheetahs won their first match of the season, when they edged the Pumas 17-16 in a nail biter in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Pretty it was not. Scrappy it certainly was.
It was a game littered with errors and poor execution from both sides.
However, the Cheetahs scored two entertaining tries to a penalty try by the Pumas to end their drought.
Having endured a hammering at the hands of Griquas in their opening encounter, following a bye and seen their fixture against the Bulls scrapped due to COVID-19 protocols, the Free Staters were desperate to open their account and had it all to do as they were without 16 players as well as coach Hawies Fourie.
Griquas’ stunning 30-28 upset victory over Western Province on Wednesday opened the door for the Lowvelders to leapfrog the Capetonians at the top of the table, but the Cheetahs – with defence guru Charl Strydom filling in as head coach for the isolating Fourie – slammed it shut as two second-half tries paved the way for a thrilling victory.
Both teams came out with intensity in what would turn out to be a frustrating first half, which ended tryless.
Both predators lacked their usual killer instinct, with fundamental errors seeing numerous try-scoring opportunities go begging.
Indiscipline also hurt both teams in a catfight that produced three yellow cards.
The first came in the 11th minute.
The Pumas had made massive inroads with a driving maul, from where flank Francois Kleinhans broke free and nearly willed his way over the tryline. His opposite number, Jeandré Rudolph, made the try-saving tackle, but was then guilty of not rolling away and was given his marching orders.
The visitors opted to take the points with flyhalf Eddie Fouché, who’d made a try-saving tackle of his own earlier on, popping over the penalty goal from right in front of the posts.
The hosts had a chance to hit right back as Clayton Blommetjies, playing in his 50th Currie Cup match, sliced through and threw a long pass to an unmarked Cohen Jasper only for the winger to knock on.
They squandered another golden opportunity in the red zone, this time, almost conceded a try on the other end with the Pumas launching a lethal counter-attack. Fortunately for the Free Staters, the danger was snuffed out at the final minute by desperate scrambling defence from Blommetjies, who went on to be named Champion of the Match.
The Cheetahs had bossed the breakdown and when lock Rynier Bernardo worked his second jackal penalty in the 27th minute, captain Ruan Pienaar looked to open his team’s account, but pulled his first kick at goal wide. Fouché followed suit, albeit from a far more challenging angle and distance after tighthead Ig Prinsloo had won a scrum penalty on the half-hour mark.
With two minutes left in the half, Pienaar finally put the Cheetahs on the board after hooker Simon Westraadt, who was industrious as ever, was penalised at the breakdown. However, a lapse in concentration by Aidon Davis led to obstruction and handed the men from the Northern Cape a 6-3 lead at the break courtesy of Fouché’s boot.
The second stanza got off to a rocky start for the Pumas as a leading shoulder by Willie Engelbrecht on Jean Droste saw the eighthman sin-binned in the 44th minute. At first, it had looked like an elbow, with referee Cwengile Jadezweni considering issuing a red card, but upon consultation with TMO Ben Crouse, the sanction was scaled down to yellow.
Nevertheless, the pressure was now transferred onto Jimmy Stonehouse’s charges, who survived the first scare thanks to an excellent cover tackle by Tapiwa Mafura, who’d come all the way from his wing to the other to smash Duncan Saal into touch.
Moments later, playmaker extraordinaire Blommetjies provided the necessary spark with a counter-attacking run and offload that put Brandon Thomson into space. The flyhalf, one of a number of Currie Cup debutants in the Cheetahs’ ranks, linked up with halfback partner Pienaar, with the 38-year-old showing good pace to dot down despite Devon Williams’ best efforts. The Springbok stalwart converted his own try as the hosts hit the front for the first time in the 56th minute.
Fouché pulled three points back before Rudolph made up for his first-half yellow card with a chicken-wing offload to Saal, who shifted the ball to a surging Lesley Botha to round off. Pienaar’s conversion stretched the lead to 17-9.
Then came another twist in the tale, a double blow for the hosts as replacement prop Conraad van Vuuren conceded a penalty try and was yellow-carded for illegally sacking the maul, which made it a one-point game at 17-16 with 14 minutes remaining.
From there, a combination of dogged defence by the home team and overzealousness by the Pumas – which saw them make a string of elementary mistakes – allowed the Cheetahs to hang on by the skin of their teeth.
Man of the match: Willie Engelbrecht was his brutal self and along with veteran hooker Simon Westraadt were the Pumas’ most productive players. Brandon Thomson pulled the strings for the Cheetahs, but our award goes to the Cheetahs’ seasoned captain and scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar – who scored the first try and added another seven points with the boot, apart from giving his team some much-needed guidance.
For the Cheetahs
Tries: Pienaar Botha
Cons: Pienaar 2
For the Pumas
Try: Penalty try
Con: Penalty try does not require a conversion
Pens: Fouche 3
Yellow card: Jeandré Rudolph (Cheetahs, 11 – cynical infringement at the breakdown, killing the ball in a tackle on the tryline), Willie Engelbrecht (Pumas, 45 – foul play, contact with the head with arm and elbow), Conraad van Vuuren (Cheetahs, 67 – cynical foul, collapsing maul near the tryline)
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 Lesley Botha, 12 Siya Masuku, 11 Cohen Jasper, 10 Brandon Thomson, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Jeandré Rudolph, 5 Jean Droste, 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Hencus van Wyk, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Aluluthu Tshakweni.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Victor Sekekete, 20 Junior Pokomela, 21 Mihlali Mosi, 22 Zinedine Booysen, 23 Malcolm Jaer.
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Tapiwa Mafura, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Matt More, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Eddie Fouche, 9 Ginter Smuts, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Phumzile Maqondwana, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren (captain), 4 Brandon Valentyn, Ignatius Prinsloo 2 Simon Westraadt, 1 Dewald Maritz.
Replacements: 16 Hendrik van Schoor, 17 Ruan Kramer, 18 Eduan Swart, 19 Kwanda Dimaza, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Chriswill September, 22 Wayne van der Bank, 23 Sebastián de Klerk.
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant referees: Local
TMO: Ben Crouse