The Toyota Cheetahs were handed a harsh lesson in Vodacom Super Rugby as the defending champions drove home six tries to whip up a 45-3 victory in Hamilton on Saturday.
After dominating the first half, and getting absolutely no reward for their efforts, the Cheetahs slipped into their old nightmare of poor defence in the second, allowing the Chiefs to run away with the game as the visitors’ heads dropped and they sank away into defeat.
It was all so self-defeating after the Cheetahs had the better of the first half, and with more than 70 percent of the territory and possession managed to find themselves 10-3 behind at the break and forced to play catch-up.
The men from Bloemfontein started off exceptionally well, and rattled the Chiefs, not letting them out of their 22m area for large parts of the half, but were way too lateral and gave up too much ball at the breakdown to have any effect, allowing the Chiefs' drift defence to keep them at bay.
There was always a sense the Cheetahs would struggle, but considering they were in command in the opening minutes, there was much disappointment that their vaunted backline could not break the Chiefs' defence and that they squandered so many chances.
Add to this some sloppy service by Sarel Pretorius and an indifferent game by Johan Goosen – all of which contributed to the scoreboard staying static – and there was enough reason for the coaching staff to be more than a tad frustrated by halftime.
Goosen, who looked good in patches, certainly still is struggling with his kicking. He missed three penalties – two of which would be considered sitters by his standard, and didn’t look comfortable with his all-round kicking game, raising the question of whether he really is over the injury that kept him out of the pre-season.
With nine points squandered in the first half and a half a dozen opportunities wasted on attack, it wasn’t surprising the Chiefs scored with almost their first foray into their opposition red zone – although there may have been a clear obstruction in the movement leading up to the try.
Still, when Liam Messam powered his way over the line and took Johan Sadie with him, you could almost hear the collective sighs of disappointment from across the country.
It was important for the Cheetahs to start well in the second half, but frankly, it was a nightmare.
Goosen’s clearance kick early in the half was charged down and Ben Afeaki picked up the ball on the sideline and went over for one of the simplest of tries.
At 17-3 there was still a bit of light at the end of the tunnel for the Cheetahs, but that all disappeared fast when their defence was worn down, and a beautiful running line from Asaeli Tikoirotuma saw him swoop in under the posts.
Three more tries came in the last 15 minutes as the Cheetahs virtually fell apart, their defensive line in tatters and their reputation taking a major knock in the process.
They may well bond together better as the tour continues, but on the evidence of the last two weeks their defence remains their Achilles heel, and without their attack looking like it can penetrate, they have little else to offer.
The warning lights are flashing early this year for the Cheetahs, and how they will react will determine their season. So far, it isn’t looking very good.
Chiefs – Tries: Liam Messam, Ben Afeaki, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Gareth Anscombe, Rhys Marshall, Ben Tameifuna. Conversions: Anscombe (6). Penalty: Anscombe.
Toyota Cheetahs – Penalty: Johan Goosen.