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Cheetahs make #BIG statement against Springbok-laden Sharks

MATCH REPORT: The Cheetahs on Sunday sent another powerful message to the South African Rugby Union about getting more regular international competition.

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In front of an enthusiastic crowd of more than 7,000 spectators, the Cheetahs beat the star-studded Sharks 32-29 in a thrilling Challenge Cup Round Two match in Bloemfontein.

The Sharks arrived at the Free State stadium with 10 Springboks in the matchday squad – including World Cup winners Lukhanyo Am (who captained the side), Makazole Mapimpi, Grant Williams, Eben Etzebeth, Retshegofaditswe Nche and Jaden Hendrikse.

In stark contrast, the Cheetahs’ only Springbok was 39-year-old utility back Ruan Pienaar.

It is truly a Cinderella story for the Bloemfontein franchise in their second season as an invitee to the European stage – while the Sharks, Lions, Stormers and Bulls all qualify through playing in the United Rugby Championship – a gift from SARU bosses.

However, the Cheetahs showed they belonged on the European stage.

And, as star loose forward Friedle Olivier said: “Hopefully now SARU will give us an opportunity in the URC.”

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In the first half, the Cheetahs enjoyed almost 70 percent territorial advantage, with 60 percent of the possession in their favour.

They were good value for their eight-point (15-7) half-time lead.

After the break, the Sharks dominated the territory and possession stats, scoring the tries that turned the game on its head.

However, when it mattered most – the last 10 minutes – the Cheetahs dug deep to pull off a vital win and go top of Pool One in the standings.

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Challenge Cup Pool One standings after two rounds

* To recap all the drama, CLICK HERE!

After some early pressure by the Cheetahs, the first real scoring opportunity went the way of the Sharks – Curwin Bosch hooking his penalty attempt past the left upright from 40 metres out.

The Cheetahs were quickly back on attack, pinning the Sharks back deep inside their half.

Just short of the end of the first quarter they finally got some reward – Marnus van der Merwe scoring the first try from a well-worked line-out move five metres out from the Sharks line. Pienaar added the conversion – 7-0.

The Sharks hit back soon afterwards – double World Cup winner Eben Etzebeth barging over after their maul was halted short. Bosch slotted the conversion to make it 7-all.

Just short of the half-hour mark the Cheetahs went ahead again – Gideon van der Merwe barging over from a quick tap penalty five metres from the Sharks line. Pienaar was wide of the mark with his conversion attempt – 12-7.

The Cheetahs almost went further ahead soon afterwards, Francois Venter hanging on desperately to force Tapiwa Mafura’s foot into touch a metre from the line.

On the stroke of half-time, Pienaar slotted a penalty to make it 15-7 to the home team at the break.

The home team was caught napping early in the second half – a counter from deep inside the Sharks half allowed former Cheetahs Francois Venter to get the visitors’ second try. Bosch was wide with his conversion attempt – 12-15.

Almost immediately No.8 Jeandre Rudolph won his team a breakdown penalty and Pienaar stretched the lead to 18-12.

The Sharks, now with more possession and territory than in the first half, saw Grant Williams used nifty footwork snipe over from a line-out maul deep inside the Cheetahs’ 22. Bosch put the Sharks in the lead for the first time with the conversion – 19-18.

And the Cheetahs suddenly also found themselves on the wrong side of a string of refereeing calls.

A handling error gifted the Cheetahs the opportunity to regain the lead – the ball hacked ahead and Daniel Maartens collected to score the home team’s third try. Pienaar’s conversion made it 25-22, just past the hour mark.

Five minutes later the Sharks were back in the lead – Makazole Mapimpi getting the bonus-point try from a sweetly-time Curwin Bosch cross-field kick. Bosch added the conversion – 29-25.

With just over five minutes remaining, from a careless penalty by the Sharks, the Cheetahs worked their way into the visitors’ 22 – Cohen Jasper stepping inside a couple of defenders to get the home team’s bonus-point try. Pienaar made it a three-point lead, 32-29, with the conversion.

It was not a game of chess – the Sharks were looking to unlock the Cheetahs’ orange defensive wall, phase after phase near the halfway line without much success.

Then the Cheetahs won a turnover with a minute to go, holding up a ball carrier near the Sharks 10-metre line.

It allowed the Cheetahs to hold on for a significant win.

Man of the match: Scrumhalf Grant Williams, before he was replaced early in the second half, asked some serious questions of the Cheetahs’ defence. Two-time World Cup-winning lock Eben Etzebeth stoked the fire in the Sharks pack and was by some distance their stand-out forward. Loose forwards Friedle Olivier and Jeandre Rudolph showed up well against the much-vaunted Sharks pack. Our award goes to veteran Cheetahs utility back Ruan Pienaar, who pulled the strings and produced a playmaking masterclass – starting at scrumhalf and switching to flyhalf without batting an eyelid.

The scorers

For the Cheetahs:
Tries: M van der Merwe, G van der Merwe, Maartens, Jasper
Cons: Pienaar 3
Pens: Pienaar 2

For the Sharks
Tries: Etzebeth, Venter, Williams, Mapimpi
Cons: Bosch 3
Pen: Bosch

Teams

Cheetahs: 15 Tapiwa Mafura, 14 Daniel Kasende, 13 Evardi Boshoff, 12 Reinhardt Fortuin, 11 Cohen Jasper, 10 George Lourens, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Jeandre Rudolph, 7 Friedle Olivier, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Victor Sekekete (captain), 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Hencus van Wyk, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Cameron Dawson.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Alulutho Tshakweni, 18 Laurence Victor, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Sibabalo Qoma, 22 Rewan Kruger, 23 Ali Mgijima.

Sharks: 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Francois Venter, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Phendulani Buthelezi, 6 James Venter, 5 Le Roux Roets, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Daniel Jooste, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Corne Rahl, 20 Jeandre Labuschagne, 21 Jaden Hendrikse, 22 Lionel Cronje, 23 Ethan Hooker.

Referee: Andrea Piardi
Assistant referees: Benoit Rousselet, Filippo Russo
TMO: Eric Gauzins

@king365ed
@rugby365com

 

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