Cheetahs are back in the hunt
PRO14 REPORT: The Cheetahs extended their unbeaten streak to five matches with a high-scoring (61-28) victory over Zebre in Bloemfontein.
The hosts notched up a first-half bonus point when Abongile Nonkontwana crossed the whitewash on 31 minutes and they went on to run in nine tries in the South African sun.
The bonus-point win has put them firmly back in the play-off race.
Defeat for Zebre leaves the Italians seven games without a win in the Pro14 – a run stretching back to October 26.
Cheetahs by name, Cheetahs by nature, the hosts flew out of the blocks to take the lead inside two minutes. The move began when Rabz Maxwane kicked through to Malcolm Jaer and he returned the favour to set Maxwane away to score his tenth try of the season.
But Zebre weren’t behind for long and a stunning offload from captain George Biagi on his 100th cap enabled his side to break down the right flank and score through Paula Balekana in style. Carlo Canna kicked for two.
It took a moment of brilliance to break the deadlock once again for Cheetahs as William Small-Smith set his side away from inside their own 22-yard line. Jaer gathered and sprinted 60 metres, stepping one Zebre player before diving across the try line for a blistering score.
Cheetahs extended their advantage to 12 points midway through the half as patient build-up play was eventually capped off by Sintu Manjezi’s burst under the posts. Tiaan Schoeman slotted his second conversion.
And Cheetahs had wrapped up a bonus point nine minutes before the break as Abongile Nonkontwana hammered his way through the defence to score his first Pro14 try after slapdash Zebre scrummaging turned the ball over.
Cheetahs started the second-half in much the same vain and when Shaun Venter punched a hole in the line, loosehead Ox Nche took advantage to power his way to the try line and score. Schoeman converted.
Zebre replied through South African Johan Meyer and suddenly, they were back into the tie when replacement Apisai Tauyavuca muscled his way over the line to reduce the arrears to 12 points.
But Cheetahs put the game to bed when Venter ran in from close range before reaching over the try line to reassert a 19-point lead after Schoeman’s conversion.
Flank Junior Pokomela and Venter added further tries for Cheetahs despite Biagi notching a try bonus point for Zebre late on and Justin Basson being sent off.
The 14 men put the icing on the cake by adding their ninth try in the dying seconds with Bernhard Janse van Rensburg sliding in the corner to record a high-scoring victory in the Free State.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) January 26, 2019
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Maxwane, Jaer, Manjezi, Nonkontwana, Nche, Venter 2, Pokomela, Janse van Rensburg
Cons: Schoeman 8
Tries: Balekana, Meyer, Tauyavuca, Biagi
Cons: Canna 4
Red card: Justin Basson (Cheetahs, 74 – foul play, dangerous charge into ruck)
Zebre: 15 Francois Brummer, 14 Paula Balekana, 13 James Elliott, 12 Tommaso Boni, 1 Gabriele Di Giulio, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Joshua Renton, 8 Giovanni Licata, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Iacopo Bianchi, 5 George Biagi (captain), 4 Samuele Ortis, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Luhandre Luus, 1 Daniele Rimpelli.
Replacements: 16 Massimo Ceciliani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Apisai Tauyavuca, 20 James Brown, 21 Riccardo Raffaele, 22 Maicol Azzolini, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti.
Cheetahs: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Tian Meyer (captain), 8 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Johannes Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Louis Fouche.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben Crouse (South Africa), Paul Mente (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)