Johannesburg - Two tries in the first 10 minutes of the second half invigorated the Cheetahs and set them on the path to an important 29-17 win over the Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade on Friday night.
It didn’t look good for the Cheetahs in the first half, particularly during an opening 20 minutes that the hosts dominated.
If anything, the Dragons were guilty of not making full use of their opportunities during that time and could easily have been better than 10-3 up at the break.
However, the Cheetahs struck immediately after the restart, with fullback Clayton Blommetjies being the spark for their win.
It was Blommetjies who gave the Cheetahs confidence and dented that of the Dragons as he scythed through the opposition defence like a knife through butter before unleashing the pass that sent through unmarked wing Sibahle Maxwane for his team’s first try to bring the scores level with the conversion.
The Cheetahs then took the lead for the first time in the wet-weather game when Fred Zeilinga went over from close range in the 49th minute, with the Cheetahs flyhalf looking almost surprised at how easily the opposing defence had opened up for him.
Suddenly the Cheetahs, who had been denied possession and territory for long periods of the first half, had a steady stream of good ball and they used it to put the Dragons under pressure.
A misdirected stab kick from the Dragons’ Arwel Robson then fell into the hands of Niel Marais who punted through and Maxwane won the race in the slippery conditions to dot down for the third try and a good 12 point lead.
The Dragons, who had former Cheetahs scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius in a determined mood in his last home game for the Dragons before he returns home to play for the Kings, struggled to assert themselves after halftime in the same way as they had for much of the first half.
However, they did strike with a try scored by hooker Elliot Dee with eight minutes to go and that did momentarily throw some doubt over the end result.
The Cheetahs were not going to have any of it, however, and Blommetjies made sure with a strong run through the middle that netted him a well deserved try and the visitors a 12 point lead that they were not going to relinquish.
You wouldn’t have imagined that being the end result when the Dragons surged onto the attack almost from the kick-off and spent large portions of the first half deep in the Cheetahs’ territory.
Pretorius looked like he had gone over for a try in the sixth minute only for it to be overruled by the TMO, but the Dragons made up for that disappointment by stringing together an impressive attack that sent in Ashton Hewitt after 12 minutes.
The Cheetahs hit back when Marais kicked a long range three pointer from a scrum penalty, but it wasn’t until the 26th minute that the Cheetahs really managed to get themselves into a strong attacking position.
They surrendered that momentum by losing a lineout and a few minutes later Robson kicked a drop-goal on the other side of the field to reclaim the seven point buffer and set up the half-time score (10-3).
They would have felt they should have been further ahead given their earlier dominance but it was clear by the break that the Cheetahs were settling, starting to eradicate their mistakes and were starting to get a strong foothold in the game.
The post halftime correction was convincing and comprehensive and set them on the path to a good bonus-point win.
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Tries: Sibahle Maxwane (2), Fred Zeilinga and Clayton Blommetjies
Conversions: Niel Marais (3)
Penalty: Niel Marais.
Newport Dragons 17
Tries: Ashton Hewitt and Elliot Dee;
Conversions: Arwel Robson;
Penalty: Arwel Robson.