The Melbourne Rebels produced a scintillating display of rugby to demolish the Toyota Cheetahs 35-14 and record their first every Vodacom Super Rugby victory over the Bloemfontein franchise.
The thrashing was so comprehensive that the scoreline flatters the Cheetahs, who struggled to find any sort of rhythm and were dominated in all facets by the home side.
The Cheetahs were unable to put together any phases of relevance and lost both the breakdown and tackle ball battle, with the Rebels able to go over the advantage line with ease whenever they had the ball.
The Rebels pitched up with an enterprising brand of rugby, looking to attack from all corners, but it was the Cheetahs’ response – normally this sort of approach by opposition would play right into their hands – that was so disappointing.
Coach Naka Drotske spoke after their win over the Bulls about the need for the side to be “switched on” when they got to Melbourne, especially as they didn’t know what to expect from a Rebels side still to play their first match in the competition, but the team that played on Friday bore little resemblance to the team that had won a week before.
Starting with flyhalf Johan Goosen who had a nightmare with his kicking game, to winger Cornal Hendricks – who missed five of his 14 tackles – the Cheetahs were man-for-man not a match for the Australian franchise.
Add to this a massive 23 turnovers they allowed in the game and it was no surprise that the Rebels reveled in the amount of ball they got. The Cheetahs simply couldn’t build any momentum and had to fight for scraps of the ball from the very start of the game.
Post-match stats are very telling – Sanzar’s stats say the Rebels had 652 metres go-forward ball in the game, nearly double the 352 that the Cheetahs had, while 15 clean breaks for the home side tells a sorry tale for the Cheetahs defence, as does 35 missed tackles in the match.
It started from the kick-off, which the Rebels won and surged into the Cheetahs half. For a moment it looked all too easy, and made you wonder if the visitors had awoken from their slumber from the long flight across the Indian Ocean. Either way, they were incredibly poor.
That shouldn’t take away from the impressive performance of the Rebels, who looked as if they would give limbs to win the battle.
The opening salvo caught the Cheetahs defence so unawares that it was easy for Lachie Mitchell to find himself unmarked on the wing to score the opening try.
It didn’t get much easier after the opening assault as the Rebels continued to attack on the left, finding ample space and momentum to take the ball into the Cheetahs danger zone time and again.
The second try was a perfect punt from captain Scott Higginbotham, who sent the ball to the wing where Jason Woodward found himself waiting for a simple catch and dot down. Again, few Cheetahs defenders were to be seen.
Just before the halftime break, Sean McMahon engineered a perfect break outside his half, with the Cheetahs falling off tackles with way too much ease. Luke Burgess couldn’t believe his luck as an open tryline beckoned and he obliged, to put his side 17 points up at the break.
The Cheetahs started well, reverting to the age-old South African weapon of the rolling maul early in the second half, which rumbled over the line, with Jean Cook, who had been on the field a matter of seconds, claiming the try.
Cook was part of a controversial moment as, at a scrum on his own line, he latched onto Scott Fuglistaller, who took offence and threw a punch to try and unleash himself. The TMO and referee referred the incident and Fuglistaller was given a yellow and 10 minutes in the bin.
Thoughts of a comeback were wasted as the Cheetahs simply couldn’t get out of second gear. A poor Goosen kick was returned with interest as Tamati Ellison found a gap to go over and give his team a virtually unassailable lead on the hour mark.
The maul brought them a second try, this time through Ryno Barnes, 10 minutes from time but a late penalty and drop goal by Angus Roberts sealed their fate.
Then, just to add insult to injury, another massive turnover saw Higginbotham sprint 40 metres to the corner to score and rub salt into the Cheetahs wounds.
Drotske will be unhappy with the performance and, other than Willie le Roux, Cook and Lappies Labuschagne, there are very few Cheetahs players who can say anything positive about their own game.
Melbourne Rebels – Tries: Lachlan Mitchell, Jason Woodward, Luke Burgess, Bryce Hegarty, Scott Higginbotham. Conversions: Bryce Hegarty (2). Drop Goal: Angus Roberts.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Jean Cook, Rayno Barnes. Conversions: Johan Goosen (2).