Blues down brave Cheetahs
Luke McAlister (Gallo Images)
Auckland - In the end the Blues achieved what they set out to do when they secured the four try bonus point to take a full house of log points from their 29-22 win over the Toyota Cheetahs at the Toll Stadium in Whangerei on Saturday.
However, as the scoreline would suggest, it was hard work for the favoured home team, who were at one stage 22-3 ahead but then had to withstand a Cheetahs fightback that put them in with a chance of drawing the game in the final minutes. In terms of possession and scoring opportunities the Blues deserved to win by that score, but the Cheetahs can also consider themselves unfortunate.
The Cheetahs should not have been down 14-3 at the break, with just a Sias Ebersohn penalty on the stroke of half-time cancelling out tries for the Blues from Joe Rococoko and Stephen Brett.
It could so easily have been the Cheetahs leading as the second Blues try was gift-wrapped for them by a Cheetahs breakdown on attack and the South African team also had an excellent counter-attack try disallowed because Blues flyhalf Brett was held back on the other end of the field when chasing down a kick before the Cheetahs started their counter.
It was the correct ruling by the touch-judge, but with none of the players on the field being aware that the call was going to be made, it was still an instance where the Cheetahs showed just what they are capable of when they get their hands on the ball and are able to attack from long-range.
If that was an instance where they were unlucky, there were also times when the Cheetahs made it more difficult for themselves, and there was a kickable penalty that was tapped instead of kicked at goal when there was seven points in it and the Cheetahs should have been looking to just get onto the scoreboard.
It was a much better performance from the Cheetahs than the one they produced in their defeat to the Reds the previous week. They didn’t get much ball in the first quarter, but they defended well, and the Blues battled to come to terms with their rush defence.
As is often the case with them, the Blues were their most dangerous from broken play, and had the elusive Isaiah Toeava made the right decision after a brilliant run that spanned half the length of the field, the Blues would probably have scored a try within the first 10 minutes.
Instead they had to wait until the 19th minute for their first, some great inter-passing from the backs, with scrumhalf Alby Mathewson featuring prominently, creating the modicum of space that was all Joe Rococoko needed in order to squeeze his way over in the left corner.
Luke McAlister had missed an early penalty but he made no mistake with the conversion from the touchline. The Cheetahs hadn’t seen much of the ball in the first 20 minutes but the next 15 minutes saw them come back into it. Although the Blues defence was pushed, however, the Cheetahs were unable to break through, apart from the counter-attack try that was disallowed.
The Blues were guilty of being too rushed and may have gone into the game too aware of the need to get the four try bonus point, and they started to look increasingly ragged, with the Cheetahs attacking strongly, as half-time loomed.
However five minutes before the break the Cheetahs again wasted an attacking opportunity by spilling the ball, as they had a couple of times in the preceding minutes, and Keven Mealamu was there to pick it up and spark the counter-attack. Luke McAlister burst through to do most of the running before eventually, with one defender to beat, the ball was passed for Brett to dot down.
It was a horrible blow for the Cheetahs to sustain considering how much of the game they had been having immediately before that try, and they may have been unfortunate here for another reason too as the replay made it looks suspiciously like the final pass was forward.
So instead of going to the break level pegging or ahead, as they might have felt they should, the Cheetahs were 11 points adrift, and it became 14 adrift when McAlister added the first points of the second half with a penalty.
The third quarter was mostly the Blues, and on a couple of occasions they were only just denied in the act of scoring. You got the sense though that the amount of tackling the Cheetahs were being forced to do would eventually catch up with them, so it wasn’t really a surprise when No8 Peter Saili went over in the corner after quick hands had created the opportunity going right from an attacking recycle.
At 22-3 with 24 minutes to go it looked like game over but maybe the Blues were guilty of thinking that their job was done for the Cheetahs came back strongly with two good tries, one from a tap penalty, to energetic scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius. The first of those tries was a real gem and not unlike the one that was disallowed in the first half, and Pretorius figured prominently in the build-up with a good angled run before coming back to finish off after Philip Burger had forced to pass inside when caught just short of the line.
Toeava used his pace to wrap up the bonus point try for the Blues with five minutes to go, but that was just the cue for the Cheetahs to go back on the attack. With two minutes to go big Coenie Oosthuizen drove over between the posts, with the conversion securing the bonus point.
Blues 29 - Try:Joe Rokocoko, Stephen Brett, Peter Saili, Isaia Toeva . Conversions: Luke McAllister(3); Penalty: L.McAllister
Cheetahs 22 - Try: Sarel Pretorius(2), Coenie Oosthuzien; Conversion: Naas Olivier(2); Penalty: Sias Ebersohn
Full report to follow…
15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Chris Lowrey, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tevita Mailau, 18 James King, 19 Mat Luamanu, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Lachie Munro, 22 Benson Stanley
15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Philip Burger, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Corne Uys, 11 Wilmaure Louw, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Philip van der Walt, 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp (captain), 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Ryno Barnes, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16 Skipper Badenhorst, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Naas Olivier, 22 Barry Geel