The Cheetahs secured their first home win of the Vodacom Super 14 when they staged a late comeback to beat the Hurricanes 27-25 in Bloemfontein. Juan Smith’s team had trailed 15-25 midway through the second half.
The match turned in the home side’s favour when ‘Canes centre Ma’a Nonu was sin-binned for a late tackle on Ronnie Cooke with 10 minutes remaining. TV replays suggested the linesman – who recommended the yellow card – had been far too harsh.
The Cheetahs booted the penalty into touch and set up a driving maul that went from the ‘Canes 22m line to their tryline. In the end, it was No 8 Rayno van der Merwe who was credited with the pushover try that gave his side a 27-25 lead.
Australian George Ayoub – voted the second-worst Super 14 referee by his countrymen in a recent players’ poll – awarded the Cheetahs three kickable penalties in the first seven minutes of the match, two of which were missed by flyhalf Meyer Bosman. The Free Staters also botched their first two line-outs, in what was a sign of things to come.
Cheetahs hooker Tiaan Liebenberg had an absolute shocker and was substituted for Ollie le Roux in the first half, while Lions-import Cobus Grobler played more like a poodle than a ‘Varkhond’.
The Bloem Boys were reduced to 14 men on the 10-minute mark when fullback Bevin Fortuin high-tackled opposite number Shannon Paku and was sent to the sin bin. ‘Canes flyhalf Jimmy Gopperth drew the teams level at 3-all with the resultant penalty.
The visitors scored their first try soon after when hooker Andrew Hore was driven over from a line-out inside the Cheetahs 22. However, the ‘Canes lost captain Tana Umaga in the process, who hobbled off with a leg injury.
The Cheetahs struck back almost immediately when Gaffie du Toit reclaimed a kick ahead, Cooke broke through the ‘Canes defence, and Os du Randt burrowed over for the five-pointer. Bosman converted to level the scores at 10-all.
Gopperth fluffed a penalty, before the Canes poached a fifth Cheetahs line-out (out of eight) and spread the ball wide to winger Lome Fa’atau, who threw a clever flick pass to Paku. Gopperth missed the conversion and the ‘Canes led 15-10 after 28 minutes.
A second penalty from Gopperth extended the visitors lead to eight points, before the Cheetahs opted to run a kickable penalty after the half-time siren, only to lose possession.
The Cheetahs were fortunate not to concede a try early in the second half when Noel Oelshig’s pass was intercepted by ‘Canes No 9 Piri Weepu, who was hauled in just short of the tryline by Bosman.
When Ma’a Nonu scored the ‘Canes third try for a commanding 15-point advantage, the Cheetahs looked a beaten side. However, they responded with a five-pointer from Fortuin, who brushed off a poor tackle from Paku. Bosman converted to make it 25-17, before Oelshig kicked a vital drop goal to reduce the gap to just five.
Then came Nonu’s sin-binning and Van der Merwe’s match winner, which put smiles on the faces of the loyal Free State fans.
Cheetahs – Tries: Os du Randt, Bevin Fortuin, Rayno van der Merwe. Conversions: Meyer Bosman (3). Penalty: Bosman. Drop goal: Noel Oelshig.
Hurricanes – Tries: Andrew Hore, Shannon Paku, Ma’a Nonu. Conversions: Jimmy Gopperth (2). Penalties: Gopperth (2).