The Cheetahs won their first match of the season through a commanding 29-14 victory over the Reds.
The visitors had fought back well after trailing 17-0 at the break, but the Cheetahs proved too strong in the end. JW Jonker wrapped up the win in emphatic fashion, scoring the bonus-point try right on the hooter.
It was a dream start by the Cheetahs, who shot to a 14-0 lead after just 10 minutes. They mixed the direct with the expansive successively, taking the correct options and exhibiting exemplary skill to finish their opportunities.
An excellent chip by Meyer Bosman forced Reds winger Clinton Schifcofske to carry the ball over his own tryline, gifting the Cheetahs the perfect attacking platform. No 8 Duanne Vermeulen picked up from a subsequent ruck and shifted it to captain Rory Duncan, who proved unstoppable from point-blank range.
Vermeulen was also involved in the second try, showing some good pace and skill to unleash Jonker down the touchline. Jonker may have had his problems on defence prior to this fixture, but he’s always looked the part on attack, and the Cheetahs No 13 hit the perfect line to confuse the Reds markers before offloading to Bosman. Bosman had Jonghi Nokwe flying on his outside, but had enough pace to get over himself.
As expected, the Cheetahs had the better of the hosts in the set-pieces, and the breakdown was another area where the hosts held ascendancy. Many a Reds attack was culled through a great steal on the deck, and although they did concede a few free-kicks, Vermeulen and Heinrich Brussouw were in dominant form.
The boots of Potgieter and fullback Hennie Daniller were also significant. They played a clever territorial game knowing their forwards would front up in the subsequent set-piece. Potgieter had an outstanding all-round game with the boot, nailing some difficult conversions and hitting a great drop-goal to give the Cheetahs a commanding 17-0 lead just before the break.
The Reds suffered a double blow when Wallabies Chris Latham and Sam Cordingley left the field before half-time. The Cheetahs came out the shed as hungry as before and it didn’t take long for Vermeulen to receive just reward for his hard work. The space was created by the inside backs before Vermeulen popped up out wide, palmed off Van Humphries and surged for the corner.
The Cheetahs attack was never in question before this match, but the same couldn’t be said for their defence. On this occasion, the tackling was outstanding and repelled many a Reds attack. Their great work at the breakdown complemented a strong defensive effort, as they never merely kept the Reds out, but often turned defence into attack.
The Reds began to gain more possession and finally got on the scoreboard in the 54th minute. Replacement Charlie Fetoai finished off well and when Schifcofske had his first attempt at goal, he didn’t disappoint.
The Cheetahs regained control, but a potential turning point arrived when CJ van der Linde was yellow-carded for a cleaning infringement at the ruck. Fetoai picked up his second try when the Cheetahs were stretched out wide. A great touchline conversion by Schifcofske brought the Reds closer at 24-14.
Drotske would have been experiencing feelings of deja vu, as the Reds began to grow in confidence and find more holes in the Cheetahs defence. Fortunately, for the hosts, they kept the Reds out for the remainder of Van der Linde’s absence, and on his return, began driving for the bonus point.
A couple of forward passes thwarted two try-scoring opportunities, but the Cheetahs never stopped trying. The ball went loose and was hacked ahead by Jonker, who received a kind bounce and raced through to collect the fourth try.
This first win elevates the Cheetahs to 11th place on the Super 14 log. Any chance of making the play-offs has long since evaporated, but the central franchise will want to improve on last year’s 11th-place finish.
Cheetahs - Tries: Rory Duncan, Meyer Bosman, Duanne Vermeulen, JW Jonker. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (3). Drop-goal: Potgieter.
Reds – Tries: Charlie Fetoai (2). Conversions: Clinton Schifcofske (2).
By Jon Cardinelli