The Cheetahs beat the Bulls 19-17 in Round 2 of Super Rugby Unlocked at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein.
Chris Smith missed a game-leveling conversion after Joe van Zyl’s last-minute try gave the lackluster Bulls a chance at the draw and two points. It was not to be as the Cheetahs held on for a deserved win.
The victory sends the Free State team to the top of the log, while defeat leaves the Bulls in second but with the rest to play.
Rosco Specman scored the Cheetahs’ only try of an error-strewn South African derby as the hosts secured a second win on the trot to go top of Super Rugby Unlocked.
The two flyhalves dominated a tight, but frustrating Super Rugby contest, with both teams still looking to shake the rust since returning to the playing field after Covid-19 Lockdown.
The Cheetahs led 13-3 at halftime thanks to the boot of flyhalf Tian Schoeman, who kicked two penalties and converted Specman’s 25th-minute try to open up a deserved 10-point lead.
Morne Steyn leveled the scores, two minutes prior to Specman’s try, with the Bulls only points of a disjointed and unimpressive opening 40 minutes.
Penalties continued to flow after the break, with both Schoeman and Steyn adding two goals to their tally. Schoeman did miss a relatively easy penalty that would have sealed the deal after Ruan Norje got sent to the naughty step.
Chris Smith banged over a long-range effort on 70 minutes to reduce the gap to seven points as the Bulls searched for an unlikely win in the City of Roses.
The Pretoria men, despite being down a man, won the mini-battle 6-0 to give themselves a fighting chance.
Van Zyl crashed over in the 80th-minute after the visitors’ only successful driving maul of the game, but Smith could not level after the hooter.
Clinical Cheetahs dominate proceedings as Bulls’ mistakes prove costly in the opening stanza.
A poor opening quarter saw scoring opportunities come at a premium.
Specman went close, and the Bulls had a couple of promising attacks; however, their poor handling continued to hamper Jake White’s side.
Schoeman opened the scoring in the 16th-minute after Marco van Staden gave away a cheap penalty at the ruck.
Van Staden dived into the knees of Pienaar, who went down injured. Tian Meyer came on for the former Springboks scrum-half, who left injured on a cart with what is suspected to be an MCL injury.
Steyn leveled seven minutes later after the entire Cheetahs’ defensive line was caught offside.
Parity was short-lived as the Cheetahs answered with another well-worked backline move off the back of a lineout near the Bulls 22.
Clayton Blommetjies, playing his 100th game for the Cheetahs, combined with Frans Steyn and Malcolm Jaer, who came off the left wing before sending fellow winger Specman away for his third of the tournament.
Schoeman slotted the touchline conversion to make it 10-3 before the half-hour.
The flyhalf, with three minutes remaining before the break, knocked over a 51-metre long penalty from in front, to extend his team’s lead to two scores before the break.
Bulls’ unforced errors continue to hamper the visitors after the break.
The Bulls won a penalty soon after the break at a driving maul. Skipper Duane Vermeulen opted for an attacking lineout instead of the points, it was a gamble that did not come off.
Johan Grobbelaar’s wayward throw killed the opportunity before the Cheetahs bulldozed the opposition’s scrum to clear the early danger.
The Cheetahs continued to flood the breakdown, dominating the ruck as the Bulls back-peddled. However, Andisa Ntsila conceded a reckless penalty, which Steyn landed from close range.
Vermeulen, opting for the poles instead of another attacking lineout from the opposition’s 5-metre line, said everything you needed to know about the Bulls’ game-plan and lack of confidence.
Schoeman added another penalty on 55 minutes to reopen the two-point lead as the Cheetahs squeezed a desperate Bulls at the breakdown.
The Bulls ill-discipline continued. Sintu Manjezi gave away a needless penalty, which Schoeman duly landed to make it 19-6 on the hour.
More infringements followed as Ruan Nortje was sin-binned for a cynical and repeated offense by White’s charges.
Shoeman missed the shot at goal, while Steyn landed his third a few minutes later to make it 19-9 with 15 minutes to play.
Chris Smith added a penalty of his own to make it a one-score game, but the Cheetahs kept control of proceedings.
However, with the clock ticking down – and the visitors back to their full quota – a mistake by the hosts gave the visitors a last shot at getting a result.
The Bulls went to the corner, won the lineout, and powered over to make it 19-17.
Hooker Van Zyl celebrated as if his score was the match-winner; however, Smith had to make the regulation conversion, which he could not.
The Cheetahs celebrated as the dejected Bulls stood, dumbfounded.
Final Score: Cheetahs 19 (13) Bulls 17 (3)
Tries – Specman
Pen – Schoeman (4)
Con – Schoeman
Tries – J. Van Zyl
Pen – M. Steyn (3), C. Smith
Cards – Nortje (Yellow, 61′)
Referee: Cwengile Jadezweni
Assistant Ref 1: Griffin Colby
Assistant Ref 2: AJ Jacobs
TMO: Stuart Berry
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Malcolm Jaer, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Reinach Venter, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Erich de Jager, 19 JP du Preez, 20 Aidon Davis, 21 Chris Massyn, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 William Small-Smith
15 Gio Aplon, 14 David Kriel, 13 Cornal Hendricks, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Jade Stighling, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Joe van Zyl, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Stedman Gans