The Hurricanes hammered the Cheetahs 29-12 in a bonus-point victory in New Plymouth.
The Cheetahs have only themselves to blame for missing out on what would have been a massive upset. Having dragged themselves off the canvas at 17-5 down at half-time by scoring through Wayne van Heerden, they conspired to botch good attacking opportunities and hand the Canes a soft try, which saw them open up a lead the visitors were never able to overturn.
The Cheetahs lacked the clarity of thought and quality of execution when it mattered most. Instead they played expansively when building patiently through the phases would have been an altogether better course of action. Their lateral movement in the backline meant the Canes’ defensive line could simply drift and nullify any threat they posed in the wide channels. Some would described the Cheetahs as much improved. But they continue to make the same errors they have throughout the tournament.
They looked every bit as disjointed as you’d expect a side who’d made 10 changes to their starting line-up and had lost their captain Juan Smith to be. They attempted to get width on their game but neglected the basics principle of depleting the defensive line through phase play.
The Canes have shown a vulnerability when the opposition are patient to rumble up at their defensive line, but thrive when teams get loose and runners isolate themselves. The Cheetahs’ coaching staff and players missed a trick here, because if they had been more direct in their approach they could have taken four points from this one.
The scoreline flatters the Canes, as they were hardly as good as the margin suggests. They made fundamental errors in every facet of play, particularly at the lineout. They won 11 of the Cheetahs’ 23 lineout feeds. A better side would have punished the hosts. However, despite being largely robbed of this platform of attack, the difference was that the Canes still converted the opportunities they did have.
The Cheetahs maintained parity on the scoreboard until Piri Weepu opened the scoring with a penalty 19 minutes into the match. The Cheetahs should have scored but for a forward pass from Bjorn Basson and the Canes made them pay when Hosea Gear crossed the whitewash after a poor tactical kick by Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
Cheetahs’ scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius got his side back in the mix, grabbing the loose ball after a lineout feed went wrong, and sprinting home.
Criminally the Cheetahs conceded a try just before the break. It was too simple for a team at this level, as a basic blindside move from a scrum saw Tamati Ellison canter over the tryline. Scoring from broken field ball is one thing, but being breached on first phase is unacceptable. They’ll lament the score, but it sums up why they are amongst the bottom dwellers.
However, when the Cheetahs get it right they are spectacular. And boy did they get it right when Van Heerden scored to ignite hope of an unlikely victory. They turned over possession and the ball travelled through numerous sets of hands before the flanker finished.
But that’s as good as it got for the Bloemfontein boys. Despite dominating possession and territory for most of the final quarter, their attempts to score lacked inventiveness and they were easily picked off by defenders. Their nadir came when Danwel Demas somehow managed to cough up the pill with the tryline at his mercy.
Having absorbed the pressure, the Canes countered and scored the bonus-point try shortly before the final whistle through John Schwalger after depleting the Cheetahs’ defensive line with pounding phase play.
By Ryan Vrede