The Waratahs went to the top of the Super 14 table with a 33-17 victory over the Cheetahs in Sydney.
A miserable weekend for the South African teams continued, as the Cheetahs were comprehensively outplayed by a side that seem to be improving weekly.
The Tahs’ second half of fixtures are considerably tougher than their first, and it remains to be seen if their youthful side have the stomach for the fight, but they’ll be confident of progressing to the play-offs.
The Cheetah looked every bit a side low on confidence, the patent lack of leadership due to Juan Smith’s unavailability, poor defence (they missed 27 tackles) and tactical naivety meant they never looked like winning. They’ll continue to be pummeled if they play like this, and there’s nothing to suggest they’ll improve in the weeks ahead.
Steady rain prior to kick-off muddied the field and made handling difficult, which didn’t suit the Tahs, who had scored 26 tries coming into this match, a fair number of those from expansive moves.
Their tactical versatility would be tested, and they passed that test convincingly, exhibiting solid set phase work and varying between direct drives up the middle and precise tactical kicking.
When they did shift the ball, their passes rarely floated further than three metres, and their ability to boss the tackle point and their superb support play asked questions the Cheetahs had no rebuttal to.
The Cheetahs, conversely, never adapted. They were being bullied in contact, and when they attempted to move the ball they often did so from well behind the advantage line.
Furthermore, they kicked poorly, seldom finding space behind the back three, and when they did they lacked the intensity in the chase to pressure the receiver. Their defence from structured attack wasn’t much better, and fundamental errors here continue to undermine their challenge.
The Tahs were happy to patiently work their way into the Cheetahs’ red zone and profited from ill discipline, Daniel Halangahu banking two penalties.
Berrick Barnes was then the catalyst for their first try. The midfielder ghosted through a gaping hole in the defensive line and set in motion a surge that was halted five metres short. The ball was recycled quickly and sent through the hands to Rob Horne who scored. Halangahu converted and added a penalty shortly thereafter for a 16-0 lead.
Naas Olivier’s penalty got the Cheetahs on the board, but the Tahs scored a decisive try after the half-time siren – Benn Robinson burrowing over from close range and Halangahu converting to give his side a 23-3 lead going down the tunnel.
The Tahs had established a 20 point lead in testing conditions, so when the rain ceased just before the restart they would have felt confident of building on a clinical first half.
That confidence wasn’t unfounded, as they blitzed the Cheetahs – Al Baxter and Kurtley Beale scoring, the latter securing the four-try bonus point.
That effectively sealed the result with 25 minutes remaining, and it became an exercise in damage limitation for the Cheetahs.
But the Tahs got loose, robbing them of the opportunity to put 50 plus on their bumbling opponents. The Cheetahs capitalised on their defensive lethargy, scoring through WP Nel and Corne Uys, but it was no more than a consolation for a diabolical performance.
By Ryan Vrede