How sick must Harold Verster, Naka Droske and the loyal supporters of the Cheetah franchise be of players leaving the union for greener pastures?! The Sharks effectively field a Free State “B-side” every time they don the black and white in any competition!
It’s not a recent occurrence either; think back to Andre Joubert, Henry Honiball, Pieter Muller, and Ollie Le Roux in the early nineties. AJ Venter and Werner Swanepoel followed suit in the latter part of that decade and Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Ruan Pienaar, Andries Strauss and Meyer Bosman brought it full circle in the new millennium. Granted the younger du Plessis and Pienaar never represented the Cheetahs at senior provincial level, but they were taught the finer “inns and outs” of the game at Grey College in Bloemfontein! You cannot really blame these guys for their decision to depart. The professional nature of the sport determines where their loyalties lie and this matter is compounded by the ever-shortening shelf life of rugby players. You are forced to go where the money is, and let’s face it, you ain’t gonna find it at the foot of Naval Hill!
Schalk Burger’s men fought like warrior poets in a bitterly cold Bloemfontein to dispel any chance of the Cheetahs ending their Super Rugby season on a deserved high. There was hardly any doubt that the men from Cape Town would pull this one through, but the Cheetahs are well known as giant slayers (just ask the boys from Canterbury) and should therefore never be scoffed at.
The precision that was lacking from a Stormers fly-half pivot for the better part of the last six matches was back and his deadly boot made the trip to the Free State as well. Peter Grant stepped up and slotted six penalties and three conversions to take his tally to twenty-four points for the night. He showed no sign of the recurring knee injury that saw him miss out on the Blues, Brumbies, Rebels and Bulls games respectively. The former Maritzburg College pupil was commanding in his presence on attack as well as in defense. He was ably assisted by Juan de Jongh who was assigned the role of distributor as opposed to that of line-breaker. If rumours are to be believed, De Jongh is high on Heyneke Meyer’s Christmas wish list, however, a Super Rugby trophy coming to Cape Town could complicate that transfer considerably.
Having lost all of their 13 games last season, the Lions have now won only one game in their last 24 Super Rugby appearances.
After getting just one win in the first 10 weeks of the competition – which had them hovering in 14th position on the 15-team table – the Cheetahs from Bloemfontein have raced into ninth place on the global standings with the wins over the Brumbies (47-36) and Lions in the last six days.
There are times when your heart has bled for the Lions – when they have been adventurous and lively and skilled, but not this time. They may have ended well but all is not well with Doppies la Grange’s rag-tag lot – pretty mangy Lions for all but the last 15 minutes when the game as a contest was long over.
The combative Cheetahs had no match for the core experience provided for the Blues by front row internationals Keven Mealamu and John Afoa. The pair were constantly running off rucks and hammering away at the close-quarter Cheetahs defence which had stymied many Blues efforts to run the ball during the first 50 minutes of the game. They had to step up after fellow international Tony Woodcock limped off with a calf strain in the first half.
They were instrumental in the 56th-minute try for number eight Peter Saili which assured the Blues of the win, typically taking ball into the ruck before flanker Luke Braid was fed into a gap to find replacement Benson Stanley who linked with Saili, who scored in the corner.
There was little to commend the rugby on display but the Cheetahs won’t care an iota about that. They won so for them it was mission accomplished. They weren’t seeking a spectacular performance, they were looking for a win and that’s what they got.
Their in-your-face defence was tight, they kicked their goals and they scored the only two tries of the game.
They brought attitude to their performance – which the Waratahs did not – and earned their win if not through skill, then certainly through courage. They were also cleverer than the home team.
The spectators who made their way to the Sydney Football Stadium will feel hard done by. They deserved better and indeed, those who stayed to the end certainly deserved more continuity and creativity than they were offered. Sadly though, they jeered their team at half-time and when the Waratahs left the field after the final whistle it was to resounding booing.
Vodacom Stormers 42 Crusaders 14
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Jaque Fourie (2), Sireli Naqelevuki; Conversions: Peter Grant (3); Penalties: Grant (7).
Crusaders – Tries: Daniel Carter, Colin Slade; Conversions: Carter (2).
Vodacom Bulls 27 The Sharks 19
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Gerhard van den Heever; Conversion: Morne Steyn; Penalties: Steyn (5).
The Sharks – Try: Rory Kockott; Conversion: Kockott; Penalties: Andy Goode (4).
Vodacom Cheetahs 36 Blues 32
Vodacom Cheetahs – Tries: Juan Smith, Jongi Nokwe, Bjorn Basson, Phillip van der Merwe, Waltie Vermeulen; Conversions: Naas Olivier (2), Meyer Bosman (2); Penalty: Olivier.
Blues – Tries: Isaia Toeava, Rene Ranger, Alby Mathewson, Anthony Tuitavake; Conversions: Stephen Brett (3); Penalties: Brett (2).
Chiefs 25 Vodacom Cheetahs 25
Chiefs – Tries: Colin Bourke, Hika Elliot, Toby Smith, Dwayne Sweeney, Liam Messam.
Vodacom Cheetahs – Tries: Devon Raubenheimer, WP Nel, Meyer Bosman; Conversions: Naas Olivier (2); Penalties: Olivier (2).
Vodacom Bulls 51 Auto & General Lions 11
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Gerhard van den Heever (2), Derick Kuün, Morné Steyn, Wynand Olivier, John Mametsa; Conversions: Morné Steyn (3); Penalties: Steyn (5).
Auto & General Lions – Try: Wandile Mjekevu; Penalties: Herkie Kruger (2).