The Cheetahs, for so long the bogey team of the Sharks, have done it again. It took them nine long weeks, but the men from Bloemfontein scored their first win of the season in beating the Sharks comprehensively, 31-6, on Saturday.
And in beating the team at the top of the table they showed that they are far better than their lowly 14th position on the standings suggest.
Rugby 365 reports that the only consolation the Sharks can take from the match is that they are still top of the standings – but both the second-placed Chiefs and third-placed Bulls, who are just three points behind them, have a game in hand.
Many will say that the Sharks again underestimated a team and paid the price, but that would not be paying credit to the Cheetahs for their best performance in many years.
As poor as the Sharks were – and they were indeed shocking in all facets of the game – the Cheetahs played an entertaining, high-paced game that was worth waiting for.
They never allowed the Sharks to settle down and with some outstanding defence kept the visitors tryless.
Added to that the Cheetahs won the line-out battle with David de Villiers the key in a department that was meant to be a strength of the Sharks.
The Cheetahs showed lots of early energy, playing some of the game inside the Sharks 22, but there appeared to be no way through the Sharks defence and after a couple of turnovers the home team soon found themselves back inside their own half.
The game ambled along for a while, with the Sharks winning the kicking duel and shading the possession stakes, before the visitors earned a penalty for a dangerous tackle.
Rory Kockott, from 40 metres out, slotted the penalty to give the Sharks a 3-0 lead after 17 minutes.
But the Cheetahs were not about to roll over and play dead. With some strong forward charges they set up good field position inside the Sharks half and when they won a penalty, a quick tap-’n-go saw flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter in acres of space. The ball found its way to left wing Jongi Nokwe and the flyer had no trouble in beating the cover.
Potgieter’s conversion gave the Cheetahs a 7-3 lead in the 24th minute.
The Cheetahs continued to play a high-paced expansive game, which certainly troubled the Sharks – who were keen on a more structured encounter.
Not that they didn’t have chances. But their handling skills let down on a number of occasions.
And when Rory Kockott conceded a penalty in the 36th minute, for playing a man without the ball, the Cheetahs had a chance to go further ahead. Potgieter, from just over 40 metres out, made sure and the Cheetahs had a 10-3 lead.
Potgieter tried to end the half with a drop-goal, but it drifted wide and his team took that seven-point lead into the break.
The Cheetahs started the second half at the same furious pace that they played the first, but a penalty for crossing stop any early momentum they had built up.
And when Cheetahs captain Juan Smith was penalised for a late, shoulder charge in the 47th minute, Kockott made no mistake and narrowed the gap to 6-10 with the penalty.
Another penalty three minutes later, for a player being in front of the kicker, gave Kockott a chance to make it a one-point game – but his kick struck the upright and bounced back into play.
The Cheetahs soon made the Sharks pay, as the men from Durban became more desperate and lost all semblance of structure, as the Cheetahs took a turnover ball to the left when flyer Jongi Nokwe beat Ryan Kankowski for pace to score the home team’s second try. Potgieter’s conversion made it 17-6.
And it went from bad to worse for the Sharks with just under 20 minutes to go, when – instead of tackling him into touch – Chris Jordaan managed to throw Bjorn Basson into the ingoal area for the Cheetahs’ third try. It epitomised the Sharks’ afternoon.
Potgieter added insult to injury with the conversion – 24-6.
The Cheetahs continued to harass the Sharks into errors and it didn’t help the visitors that they had now lost any semblance of their structure.
The Cheetahs got their bonus-point try – which also sealed their first win of the season – in the 69th minute – with some sublime handling putting replacement Kabamba Floors into space. Some nifty footwork by the former Sevens star put him over for the try.
Meyer Bosman, having taken over the kicking duties from the injured Potgieter, made it 31-6.
The Sharks still tried for some consolation score, but they were by now a well-beaten team and a disheveled bunch.
It ended with the Cheetahs hoofing the ball the stands for their first win of the season – four tries to nil.Tweet