GARETH DUNCAN reports on the Blues’ 29-22 bonus-point win over the Cheetahs in Whangarei.
The scoreline flatters the Cheetahs, who delivered a poor overall performance with an under-strength team. Three late scores from scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius and prop Coenie Oosthuizen, which was gifted by a poor late defensive effort from the Blues, reduced what should’ve been big defeat to a seven-point loss.
With the likes of Juan Smith, Heinrich Brussow and Andries Strauss sidelined with injury, the Cheetahs were short of the physicality needed to produce an upset. There heavies were dominated by a mobile and stronger Blues pack while their backline was penetrated regularly by the hosts’ speedsters. They did well to expose the Blues’ wayward defence in the closing stages, but by then it was a little too late.
It was a disappointing finish for the Blues who held the ascendancy all around the park for 65 minutes of the game. They were rampant on attack and creating plenty of chances to cross the chalk, but poor handling a decision making saw the home team fall short of the whitewash on numerous occasions, especially in the first half.
It was a frustrating start for the home team as they created two try-scoring opportunities in the opening 12 minutes, but they lacked the composure to finish them. Defensively, the Blues started the game strong before becoming frail at the death. They restricted the Cheetahs offence who lost possession too easily and these turnovers set the platform for the Blues’ opening scores.
The Cheetahs failed to gather scrumhalf Alby Mathewson’s box kick to the halfway line and the Blues latched on to the ball first. After two phases, flyhalf Stephen Brett charged from the midfield and his offload put wing Joe Rokocoko through for the first try. Centre Luke McAlister added the extras.
The Cheetahs crossed the chalk moments later via Wilmaure Louw, but referee Bryce Lawrence disallowed the try as he brought play back for an earlier foul from the winger. The Blues then punished the Cheetahs’ poor ball retention from a counter attack from their own half which saw Brett dive over for a 14-0 lead. Flyhalf Sias Ebersohn kicked the Cheetahs’ only points of the first half with a penalty for the last action before the break.
McAlister’s penalty and No 8 Peter Saili’s try in the third quarter seemed like the defining scores as the Cheetahs fell 24-3 behind with 15 minutes to go, but the latter responded with a great fightback.
Pretorius crashed over twice from close range before Blues fullback Isaia Toeava darted down the touchline for the four-try bonus point. Oosthuizen powered through under the posts to create some late pressure but the Blues managed to hold on for the victory.