The Toyota Cheetahs started off slow, but then put the foot down to deliver a hammer blow and take the bonus point with a comprehensive 35-22 win over the DHL Stormers in their Vodacom Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The season of woe continued for the Stormers, who looked good in patches, but failed to take their chances when it counted, and let in five tries on a night when they were searching for redemption.
The Cheetahs grabbed their second win of the season and despite looking good on attack, it was their defence at times that won them the game, as they were deadly from turnovers to score when it mattered and give their long-suffering fans something to cheer about.
Make no mistake, while this was entertaining, it was not a great match. The enterprise and excitement was amplified thanks to the drivel we’ve seen in the South African conference this weekend from the Sharks and Bulls, and for once it was great to see two sides trying to attack, and not just aimlessly kick the ball down each other’s throats.
Not to say there wasn’t a lot of kicking, but the moments of enterprise that emerged as both looked to attack from broken field play gave some hope – until the moment you remind yourself both these teams are at the bottom of the Super Rugby log.
Log positions aside, the Cheetahs will enjoy the victory and much credit must go to the role that Heinrich Brussow played for them.
It is no coincidence that Brussow’s return to the side has coincided with the sluice gates on defence closing up and the reason is simple. The nuggety forward is an expert at slowing down opposition ball and is always near the attack.
Brussow was instrumental in Cornal Hendricks’ try after knocking the ball back, and played a massive role in the 80 minutes of the game, as his team seem to play with more confidence and defend better when he is around.
Another point worth making – not that those in charge at the Stormers will want to hear – is that their team was essentially beaten by a team made up largely of players who started off in the Cape region but searched for a new team to play for after being rejected by the Cape team.
Take Johann Sadie, Willie le Roux, Elgar Watts, Hendricks and Benjamin – who all had a hand in doing the damage on Saturday – all started their careers in either Boland or Western Province before finding themselves in Bloemfontein.
And considering the signings of Salosi Tagicakibau and others, it may well be something for the Stormers management to consider when they look at resurrecting the side from their current malaise.
But back to the Cheetahs, who were down early in the game thanks to a beautiful running line from Nizaam Carr, who took a ball at pace, straightened and darted inside to score in the fifth minute.
Peter Grant converted the try, and added a penalty for an early 10-0 lead, with the Stormers looking confident and in control in the opening stages.
But then the tide turned, thanks to a piece of brilliance by Le Roux, as he chipped and collected in trademark style and set up a barrage of assaults on the Stormers line, with the ball eventually coming back to the fullback for a cross-field kick for Hennie Daniller to catch and dot down.
Le Roux was at it again with a great counter and a perfect pass to put Brussow into the gap, with the flanker drawing the defence before setting Benjamin on his way to the tryline to level the scores.
Watts added a penalty to put the home side into the lead, and the Cheetahs took control of the game with Raymond Rhule breaking down the blind side, with the Cheetahs taking the ball through 10 phases before Le Roux saw a gap and ghosted through it for a try.
Things were still precariously poised at 20-10 at the break, with Watts adding another penalty shortly after halftime before Devon Williams brought the Stormers back into the game with a try, masterfully crafted by Stormers and Springbok captain Jean de Villiers.
And with the Stormers starting to threaten, and putting together phases as they built momentum, it took one moment from Brussow to seal the game. He got in between the Stormers attack and deliberately knocked the ball back to Sarel Pretorius, metres from his own line, with the scrumhalf sending the ball to Hendricks.
Hendricks chipped over the defence, collected and then beat Williams on a 70m sprint to the line to make sure of the victory. It was a sensational try against the run of play that not only took the wind out of the Stormers' sails, but gave the Cheetahs their bonus point and underlined their attacking dominance on the day.
Trevor Nyakane burst over from close range to start the dancing and celebrations to the delight of the crowd, with De Villiers making the scoreline look more respectable with a try at the end for his team.
But with new Director of Rugby Gert Smal in the stands, the Stormers will head back to the drawing board after a night where they would have expected a better return against a team with the worst defensive record in the competition.
CHEETAHS - Tries: Hennie Daniller, Rayno Benjamin, Willie le Roux, Cornall Hendricks, Trevor Nyakane; Conversions: Elgar Watts (2); Penalties - Watts (2)
STORMERS - Tries: Nizaam Carr, Devon Williams, Jean de Villiers; Conversions: Peter Grant, Kurt Coleman; Penalty: Grant