The Cheetahs moved closer to a semi-final spot with their deserved 20-14 win over the Bulls in Bloemfontein.
With both sides level on the log before kick-off, the result was always going to have a big say in the play-off race. With the Lions and Western Province’s victories on the same day, the Bulls now remain out of a play-off spot, and with only four rounds remaining the pressure is increasing on their title defence. They sneaked into the semis last year, and will have to rely on a late charge similar to that.
The contest got off to a frantic start with a try after 38 seconds through Philip van der Walt. The Cheetahs flank finished off a deep attack from their own try-line off the first kick-off, slick inter-passing and good vision leading to the 90m try.
The Bulls replied through a Jaco van der Westhuyzen score five minutes later, and had the better of the first half as they led 11-10 at the break. After the frantic opening, both sides’ defence tightened up, while they also showed that tactical versatility is a must, even with the new law interpretations.
Francois Hougaard, back in the Bulls No 9 jersey, continued his development in the scrumhalf position and was a constant threat around the fringes. The problem for the Bulls in the second half was the amount of ball they had. In the second stanza, the home side dominated possession, but the Bulls’ defensive system and commitment were outstanding. It was reminiscent of their display against WP at Newlands, where despite what was handed to them, they wouldn’t relent.
Eventually they had to, Hendro Scholtz diving over after 32 phases and two movements of concerted pressure. Heading into the final quarter, the Cheetahs led 20-14.
Coenie Oosthuizen was instrumental in that period and throughout, as he continued his form that’s made him the best ball-carrying prop in the country. The 21-year-old was, as usual, outstanding with ball in hand and in the loose, but his scrummaging prowess repeatedly disrupted Bulls ball and also forced a tighthead at a vital stage in the second half. One of the Springboks’ few positives after a disastrous year has been Gurthro Steenkamp, but Oosthuizen is a must addition for the Grand Slam tour.
Scholtz’s try handed his side a nine-point buffer after they’d trailed at the break, but typically the Bulls refused to hand their opponents victory. Jacques-Louis Potgieter’s first penalty narrowed the gap, and Van der Westhuyzen was denied a late try by some committed cover defence. As strong as the Cheetah’s scrum had been early in the game, with WP Nel on they felt the pressure as the Bulls had all the momentum in the closing stages.
The Bulls nearly stole a win despite their repeated mistakes, but the Cheetahs also showed the resolve their opponents had done earlier.
By Grant Ball