Bloemfontein - The Waratahs maintained the pressure on the other Vodacom Super 14 contenders when they scored an 18-10 win over the Vodacom Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday to lift themselves into fourth position on the log.
The Cheetahs have pulled off some giant-killing acts during the past few weeks, with the Sharks and the Crusaders numbering among their victims since Easter Saturday. Another shock result in the favour of the Bloemfontein team would probably have sounded the death-knell to the Waratahs chances, as they started the 11th round three points adrift of the top three.
For a couple of minutes the portents were good for the South African teams, the Sharks and Bulls, who stood to benefit from a Cheetahs win. The hosts were all over the Waratahs, and twice within the first five minutes they came close to scoring but wasted their opportunities.
Maybe that was the difference between this week and last week – against the Crusaders the Cheetahs made full use of the opportunities that came their way, this time they didn’t, and as a result they did not enjoy the confidence booster they received from the Jonghi Nokwe try in the first half six days earlier.
The Waratahs weathered the storm, and then for the next 20 minutes they were the team exerting most of the pressure. The Cheetahs held parity in the possession stakes during that period, but it was in the territory battle that they were coming a poor second.
As they did against the Crusaders, the Cheetahs defended well, but as the match wore on so the Waratahs started to find holes in their defence, particularly in the midfield. And it was through one of these holes that Timana Tahu poured off an excellent bit of rugby from inside centre Kurtley Beale to set up the try that was rounded off by Lachie Turner forcing his way in from touch and then over the line with a few Cheetahs players on his back.
Slowly but surely the Waratahs were also starting to gain ascendancy in the battle for possession, and though the Cheetahs’ Heinrich Brussow was excellent and skipper Juan Smith was prominent when his team had their rare chances to attack, it was the Waratahs forwards who took control of the match.
It started at the set-scrums, where the Cheetahs were placed under massive pressure. This was summed up by the Cheetahs surrendering possession when they opted for a scrum from a free kick in an attacking position and the Waratahs swivelled them over the touchline.
The Cheetahs also struggled to win their own ball from the lineouts, and this prevented them from really getting the momentum and sustaining the pressure on their opponents that they needed in order to get into the game and challenge for the win.
The Cheetahs had a lucky let off when Kurtley Beale was taken out late after a Waratahs ball had been kicked through near the Cheetahs line. Referee Marius Jonker rightly awarded a penalty, which Daniel Halangahu kicked to make it 8-0 on the stroke of half-time, but it was not his denial of a possible penalty try that made the Cheetahs lucky. Rather it was the fact that there were several unmarked players standing outside Beale when the kick was made.
Cheetahs flyhalf Naas Olivier drew the Cheetahs back to 8-3 five minutes after half-time with a penalty, but the Waratahs forward superiority just became more marked the longer the game lasted, and it was no surprise when replacement Luke Burgess went through for the clinching try after 55 minutes.
Halangahu made it safe for his team with another penalty seven minutes from time, after which the Cheetahs launched a compelling series of attacks, one of which netted a try to JW Jonker, who took an inside pass from Denwell Demas, who found himself in space off a move that started in the Cheetahs 22.
The Cheetahs could well have got another as they laid siege to the Waratahs line in the last three minutes, but the prize they were aiming for was not a win, just a bonus point, and their quest fell tantalisingly short.
For the Sharks, who play the Waratahs next week, the game showed them who to watch out for. Wycliff Palu was their nemesis when they played both a league match and a semifinal in Sydney last year, and he was in outstanding form in this match. Others to impress included centre Beale, Turner, skipper Phil Waugh who was always a menace at the breakdown and the key men in their lineout and scrum. Scorers:
Vodacom Cheetahs - Try: JW Jonker. Conversion: Naas Olivier. Penalty: Olivier.
Waratahs - Tries: Lachlan Turner, Luke Burgess. Conversion: Daniel Halangahu. Penalties: Halangahu (2).