The Cheetahs went to the top of the standings, maybe just temporarily, after beating the Waratahs 30-26 in a thrilling Round Three Super 14 match at ABSA Park, in Kimberley, on Saturday.
The Waratahs overcame a fierce early Cheetahs onslaught - in which the Cheetahs scored three tries inside the first 18 minutes - and the loss of their captain Phil Waugh (to an ankle injury) inside the first five minute, to come back and almost clinch it at the end.
The Super 14 may not have reached the dizzy heights that have become expected of it in the opening two weeks but this game went some way to rectifying that. It had all the thrills and excitement we have come to expect from the Super 14, albeit with a handful of errors thrown into the mix.
However when both sides are intent on playing such positive rugby with width and pace at every available opportunity errors can be forgiven. Even more so when the advantage played results in a more flowing and open game as was the case more often than not here.
In the early exchanges it seemed as if the Cheetahs would run away with the game, literally, as they spread the ball from one side of the pitch to the other, and back again. The Waratahs struggled to live with the pace of the game, as Phillip Burger exposed them wide early on.
It only took the free running Cheetahs three minutes to open their account with a well worked Ronnie Cooke try under the posts. After the TMO had adjudged Juan Smith to have been held up over the line the Cheetahs struck from the resulting scrum. As Herkie Kruger drifted with the ball in hand he flicked a clever pass back on the inside to Ronnie Cooke who crashed in under the posts for the opening score, but not before the TMO was called upon to confirm the grounding.
If the opening three minutes hadn't signaled the Cheetahs intent then their confidence to run the ball from deep from the restart certainly did. Phillip Burger and Kabamba Floors demonstrated their sevens skills combining down the flank to make easy yards. And it was Burger again who showed a superb turn of pace to cross for the second Cheetahs try after only six minutes.
Moving the ball wide from first phase the Cheetahs exposed the Waratahs out wide as Burger cantered in at the corner after a turn of pace had seen off the cover defence. A collision between the last two Waratah defenders may have been a little fortuitous but it was nothing less than the Cheetahs deserved for their adventure.
Peter Hewat momentarily broke the one sided pattern with a simple penalty goal, but the Cheetahs soon found themselves back in control. Their impressive pack laid the foundations down the right flank with some excellent tight play before Eddie Fredericks coasted over. Fredericks found a huge hole through a ruck and had an easy run to the line for the third Cheetahs try. Meyer Bosman added his second conversion and the Cheetahs were cruising.
They had the chance to wrap up a try bonus point on two occasions as Kabamba Floors made two telling breaks only to find himself with no support. With only a quarter of the game gone and the Cheetahs stamping their authority on the game it seemed as if it could be a very one-sided affair. A scrappy ten minutes of play did little too suggest otherwise, that was before young Kurtley Beale conjured up a piece of individual brilliance.
With nothing seemingly on in the middle of the pitch Beale chipped a flat Cheetahs defensive line and re-gathered in style before diving under the posts for a score that will only add to his already growing reputation. Hewat added the extras and all of a sudden the game took on a different complex.
Herkie Kruger chipped over a clever drop goal as half time rapidly approached before the Waratahs struck again with the final move of the half. Having re-gathered the ball from the restart it was the Waratahs who utilised the width this time before swinging play back into midfield. Ben Jacobs hit a fine angle to burst through a yawning gap and score under the posts. Again Hewat added the extras and at half-time the Waratahs had clawed their way back into a game that had almost passed them by.
The second half was not quite of the break neck pace seen in the first but again both sides showed plenty of adventure. Hewat reduced the gap further with his second penalty as the game evened out further and the Waratahs sensed they could take something from this clash.
But it was the Cheetahs captain Juan Smith who ensured his sides would take at least a try bonus point from the game when his outstretched arm dotted the ball down on the line. Eddie Fredericks had laid the platform for the score with an elusive break before the ball was moved wide to Smith to secure the bonus point.
Bosman and Hewat exchanged penalties in quick succession before Hewat nudged his fourth shot at goal to bring the Waratahs within a try. He had a chance to reduce the deficit to just one point with five minutes left but pushed the simplest of chances just wide of the uprights. It was to prove a telling blow as the Waratahs chased the game late on but the Cheetahs just hung on for a thrilling victory.
Man of the Match: All those who graced this game deserve a mention for the manner in which they approached it but we have gone for Phillip Burger. He was a constant threat to the Waratahs defence and showed superb pace to score his try.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Cooke, Burger, Fredericks, Smith
Cons: Bosman 2
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Beale, Jacobs
Cons: Hewat 2
Pens: Hewat 4
Cheetahs: 15 Phillip Burger, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 Marius Joubert, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Ronnie Cooke, 10 Herkie Kruger, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Darren Nell, 7 Juan Smith Juan (c), 6 Kabamba Floors, 5 Corniel van Zyl, 4 Bian Vermaak, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wiaan du Preez
Replacements: 16 Richard Strauss, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 Henro Scholtz, 19 Ryno van der Merwe, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Gavin Passens, 22 Tiger Mangweni
Waratahs: 15 Sam Norton-Knight, 14 Peter Hewat, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Sam Harris, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Will Caldwell, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Tim Davidson, 19 Ben Hand, 20 Josh Valentine, 21 Daniel Halangahu, 22 Morgan Turinui
Referee: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Vinny Munro (New Zealand), Pro Legoete (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)
By Marcus Leach