Cheetahs falter then fire to beat Bulls

The Cheetahs delivered a good second half performance to rally and beat the Bulls 24-15.

The Cheetahs were trailing 12-3 at half-time and looking decidedly ordinary, until they sparked to life, scoring three tries and holding on to record their first win of the tournament.

The first half of the match was painful to watch, with fundamental errors spoiling what promised to be a good contest. The Cheetahs were the chief culprits – tactically naive and lacking in rugby intelligence – they looked every bit a side who were yet to register a victory in the competition.

They achieved parity at the set phases, and when they hit up directly with their big strike runners they looked a half decent unit who had the ability to trouble the Bulls. However, they failed to use their complete dominance of possession and territory wisely, and weren’t helped by the fact that Jacques-Louis Potgieter missed three relatively easy penalty attempts within the first quarter.

The Bulls were largely starved of possession in the first half, but made their first three entries into the Cheetahs’ 22 count through the boot of Francois Brummer. They used the little ball they had fairly well, refusing to gamble by playing in their half, although for a team boasting a fair amount of Super 14 experience and talented young players they would have been disappointed that they didn’t test a vulnerable side more.

Potgieter had managed a drop-goal, but the Cheetahs’ troubles were compounded when they lost Robert Ebersohn to the sin-bin just before half-time. Brummer banked the resultant penalty to send his side down the tunnel with a nine point lead.

It wasn’t a fair reflection of the Cheetahs’ dominance, but it was reflective of their tactical and goal kicking ineptitude. The three penalties Potgieter missed was followed by the knee-jerk reaction of opting to kick for touch when penalties which followed were kickable. It was indicative of the panic that prevails within the side at present.

They needed to be patient and more clinical in the second half, but instead started in the worst possible way when scrumhalf JP Joubert quick-tapped a penalty that was dead in front of the posts. The subsequent move failed to produce points, and coach Naka Drotske’s frustration was patent despite his best efforts to appear calm.

However, the Cheetahs finally found their groove eight minutes into the second half when they scored via a try that featured patience through eight phases before prop WP Nel powered over from close range. Potgieter sunk the conversion to make it a two point game, before Brummer restored the Bulls’ lead with a 45m kick.

The Cheetahs second came shortly thereafter, when they outmuscled the Bulls at a scrum just inside the visitors’ 22. Joubert quick-tapped once again, committed two defenders and offloaded to Frans Viljoen who negotiated the tackle of Franscois Hougaard to score in the corner. Potgieter had been diabolical off the boot in the first half but made no mistake with the conversion from a difficult angle.

The Bulls, so composed for most of the first half, became increasingly loose in their approach and this allowed the Cheetahs’ ground patrol to torment them at the breakdown.

The Cheetahs then stretched their lead further in a move birthed from a centrefield scrum. Nel showed good pace for a prop to gallop towards the tryline, and when he was cut down five metres short, the quick recycle ensured that a hard-running Adriaan Strauss got the service he wanted and he crossed the chalk. Potgieter converted to set up a nine point lead with 10 minutes remaining.

The Cheetahs played the percentages well, pinning the Bulls back in their half and forcing them to launch attacks from there. The tactic worked and the Bulls became visibly more desperate as the clock ran down. Frans Ludeke’s side failed to produce the late heroics they needed and slumped to their second defeat of the competition.

By Ryan Vrede