The Cheetahs recorded their second successive win with a 29-14 victory against the Force in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
After injuries hampered much of their season, the two teams enjoyed good form towards the end of their campaigns once several key players returned. The Cheetahs came off an away draw against the Chiefs and impressive victory against the Blues while the Force achieved back-to-back wins against the Crusaders and Lions – this promised to be a close encounter when the two teams clashed at Vodacom Park.
The key battle was at the breakdown, where the Force were expected to have the upper hand with the experience of their loose forward combination: David Pocock, Matt Hodgson and Richard Brown. However, the Cheetahs gained the ascendancy on attack as their forwards out-muscled the Force heavies at the tackle point.
The dry conditions in the Free State capital also favoured the home team’s expansive game plan, while the Force struggled on attack and defence in the early stages.
This saw the Cheetahs steal early momentum, but it was the Force’s errors that allowed them to surge into a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius was influential in both touchdowns as he capitalised on a Force knock-on to put flyhalf Naas Olivier through and got the better of opposite number Justin Turner at a 5m defensive scrum for the second. Olivier added the extras.
After an errant opening to the match, the Force settled and hit back after centre Ryan Cross burst through from close range. Fullback James O’Connor kicked the conversion to reduce the Cheetahs’ lead to seven points. However, this did not kill the Cheetahs attacking flair, as wing Bjorn Basson’s first half brace secured their four-try bonus point before the break; their second of the season.
The Force were exposed out wide by clever kicks. First, Olivier’s up-and-under saw Basson out-jump wing Nick Cummins for an easy run in. The Force then committed too many numbers up field on attack and fullback Hennie Daniller’s hack through saw Basson beat hooker Nathan Charles in the race for the Cheetah’s fourth try.
This saw the home team enjoy a 26-7 lead at the break.
Olivier extended the Cheetahs’ lead with a penalty soon after the restart. The Force then reverted to a loose game, in an attempt to get back into the match. But the Cheetahs’ sturdy defence and ascendancy at breakdown stifled the visitors on attack.
Both teams had several scoring opportunities at the death as fatigue set in. Only the Force managed a consolation five-pointer in the closing stages as David Pocock dived over from a quick-tap penalty.
The victory was a consolation for the Cheetahs, but it was a personal triumph too as they jump above the Highlanders and Force on the log.
By Gareth Duncan