The Cheetahs got their second Super 14 campaign off to a flyer when they smashed a willing Stormers team 27-9 in their Round One match in Bloemfontein on Saturday. The Cheetahs outscored their error-prone rivals by three tries to none to take top spot on the standings – albeit on points difference.
There have been whispers along the South African rugby landscape that the Stormers of old – creative and counter-attacking – may just return this year, but any notion of winning a game through the strength of broken play was shown to be foolish by the poise and excellence of the Cheetahs.
In the finest performance yet in this year’s Super 14 the Cheetahs summarily outplayed their Cape Town opponents with the accuracy and strength of their tight play and the verve and determination of their running game.
After a long period without scoring, the Cheetahs opened their account with a well-worked Adriaan Strauss try in the last minute before the half-time break, after bombarding the Stormers line from left to right.
The Stormers did well to limit the damage in the first half – with their over-the-line defence spot on, but there are only so many times a side can plug the gaps.
The Stormers managed to pull back the deficit with two Naas Olivier penalties, in the 43rd and 48th minutes, putting his side into a 6-5 lead.
But two Meyer Bosman penalties (55th and 59th minutes), along with a third Olivier penalty, saw the Cheetahs take an 11-9 lead after 62 minutes.
That Olivier penalty was the Stormers’ last scoring act – also the last time they looked likely to threaten the Cheetahs.
The Cheetahs then began to pull away. Herkie Kruger provided crisp passing to his dynamic outside backs. The combination of Meyer Bosman and Marius Joubert looks very promising, with the latter revelling in being allowed the width of a more incisive and direct approach to launch attacks out wide.
Philip Burger wreaked havoc on the wing and Tiger Mangweni was enterprising and tough at fullback.
In the game of rugby, an oft overlooked important facet of the game is the ability to win at the re-starts, and the Stormers will need to look at why, after failing at re-start after re-start, they persisted in kicking the ball so deep. Each time Cheetahs scrum-half Noel Oelschig booted the Stormers way back into their own half.
At the set pieces the Stormers simply could not live with the razor-sharp Cheetahs tight five. Selborne Boome made no impact at the line-outs, while CJ van der Linde bullied the Stormers front row at scrum time.
The Cheetahs’ second try was a gem. In the 63rd minute CJ van der Linde rumbled down the touchline, after the Cheetahs shifted the ball through the hands in one of many attacks out wide. The manner in which Van der Linde brushed off would-be tacklers – Gio Aplon and Schalk Burger, while dragging Bolla Conradie with him over the line – was a sight to behold.
The precise play of scrum-half Noel Oelschig set up the next try, when he took a quick tap at a penalty and scooted downfield to set up a try for Kabamba Floors.
When Floors muscled over in the 75th minute, the match was all but won.
The Stormers need to learn that an expansive game is not sloppy. Its precise. It involves running into the gaps, not moving laterally. Aplon was, when allowed, very impressive, while Paulse was also starved of ball, to his visible frustration.
Schalk Burger was impressive as was Joe van Niekerk in patches, but Juan Smith showed that with pure force of determination he is one of the world’s best blindside flanks. Burger also let himself and his team-mates down, earning a yellow card as early as the third minute for a late hit on Philip Burger.
The Stormers tight five was shown up, but more visibly the inside backs of Naas Olivier and Jean de Villiers will be disappointed that they simply did not provide the necessary go-forward.
If their dynamic loose trio is to be utilized, these players need to provide some incision.
Brent Russell looked sharp enough in the final ten minutes to warrant a starting place next week.
Rassie Erasmus has fashioned a well-drilled side, but his structures allow the players to express themselves on attack rather than inhibit them.
The Cheetahs will be well-satisfied with their opening effort, while the Stormers need to re-think some of their philosophies.
Man of the Match: Juan Smith was extremely powerful and led with guts and spirit, CJ van der Linde was bullish up front, and Noel Oelschig was precision exemplified, but for a performance that defied all expectation and one that promises to be the beginning of a monumental comeback, the incisive and creative play of Marius Joubert earns him our Man of the Match title.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: A Strauss, Van der Linde, Floors
Pens: Bosman 4
For the Stormers:
Pens: Olivier 3
Yellow card: Schalk Burger (Stormers, 3 – foul play, late and high tackle)
Cheetahs: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Philip Burger, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Ronnie Cooke, 10 Herkie Kruger, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Kabamba Floors, 7 Juan Smith (c), 6 Hendro Scholtz, 5 Corniel van Zyl, 4 Darron Nell, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Ollie le Roux.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Wian du Preez, 18 Bian Vermaak, 19 Ryno van der Merwe, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Eddie Fredericks.
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Breyton Paulse, 13 Corne Uys, 12 Jean De Villiers, 11 Conrad Jantjes, 10 Naas Olivier, 9 Bolla Conradie, 8 Joe van Niekerk, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Luke Watson (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Selborne Boome, 3 Eddie Andrews, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 JD Moller.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 JP Joubert, 21 Brent Russell, 22 De Wet Barry
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Linston Manuels (South Africa), Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)