Cape Town - The Cheetahs on Saturday edged the Western Force 30-29 in their Super Rugby encounter in Bloemfontein.
Both halves were remarkably different as the first was a wonderful display of running rugby with the Cheetahs scoring four tries to one.
The second-half turned out to be a fairly bland affair marred by handling errors and a visible loss of energy from the Cheetahs. The Force in contrast were merciless in the way they closed down the Cheetahs after the turnaround, with clever kicks and a tightened defence.
The final minutes became similar to a football penalty shoot-out as Peter Grant and Fred Zeilinga tried to get the three that would win it for their side.
The Cheetahs' positive approach to the game was a marvel to watch. At half-time the score was 27-10 to the home side with only one penalty to speak about.
The Cheetahs' intent to play attacking rugby was clear in the half-time statistics. They seemed to break the Force's line at will as they had nine clean breaks in just the first-half to the Force's three, they beat 17 defenders, and the most indicative number of them all was the Cheetahs making 88 passes to the Force's poultry 39.
The Western Force were the first to open the scoreboard account as Ox Nche put in a crunching, high tackle on Jono Lance and the Ian Prior kicked it over.
The Force's handling errors became a problem after Clayton Blommetjies kicked it downfield, and instead of Lance collecting neatly he knocked the ball into touch, giving the Cheetahs a lineout on the Force’s 22 metre line. The Cheetahs then attacked off the lineout, Sergeal Petersen got the ball on the blindside and grubbered it forward but again a Force player knocked the ball over the dead-ball line. Off the five metre scrum the Cheetahs pulled off a wonderful set move which almost saw Petersen go over, but he was stopped just short. Paul Schoeman picked it up from the back of the ruck and dotted the ball down against the posts for the try.
The Cheetahs' forwards all played like they had ten on their back. They threw the ball around, effortlessly making off-loads and long passes, until they swung it wide to Uzair Cassiem who dotted down.
Around the 20th minute, Wallaby Dane Haylett-Petty found masses of space after collecting a kick and sprinted downfield. After some terrible Cheetahs defence, there was a two on one with Francois Venter stuck in a defensive conundrum and the centre got sucked in before Kyle Godwin was passed the ball to score an easy try on his 50th Super Rugby game.
The Cheetahs replied immediately, and after a set-piece, Blommetjies got the ball in space, and squeezed himself through a gap to score the try.
The Cheetahs then put themselves in bonus point territory just 30 minutes in after Cassiem broke the Force defence and sprinted 30 metres before off-loading to Oupa Mohoje, who took the ball in. With the Force defence spread, the Cheetahs swung the ball wide, Petersen cut inside and got the ball on the switch before scoring.
After the first-half things slowed down considerably.
After a quick lineout, Haylett-Petty ran straight through the Cheetahs and beat the cover defence to score. The Force did well to deprive the Cheetahs of the ball so they could try and claw their way back into the game in the second-half.
The Force's turnaround started to pay dividends for them in the 60th minute, as Semisi Masirewa returned a kick well as he gassed downfield, before grubbering it forward for Haylett-Petty to score the try for 27-23.
Grant then slotted two penalties that pushed the Force 29-27 in front but Zeilinga responded with a 78th minute penalty.
Grant had a late chance to win the game for the Force but his long-range effort was well short.
The Cheetahs then defended well for the final few moments to eke out a much-needed victory.
In next weekend’s action, the Cheetahs travel to Durban to face the Sharks, while the Force host the Stormers in Perth.
Tries: Paul Schoeman, Uzair Cassiem, Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen
Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (2)
Penalties: Zeilinga (2)
Tries: Kyle Godwin, Dane Haylett-Petty (2)
Conversion: Ian Prior
Penalties: Prior (2), Peter Grant (2)
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes:16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 George Whitehead, 23 William Small-Smith
15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Marcel Brache, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Rory Walton, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Pek Cowan (captain)
Substitutes: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Semisi Masirewa