Cheetahs upset Sharks in Bloemfontein
July 5, 2014
Phillip Van Der Walt touches down for the Cheetahs
© Getty Images
The Sharks' Super Rugby title hopes suffered a major blow Saturday when they lost 27-20 to the lowly Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
All the long-time southern hemisphere provincial championship leaders from Durban took from the match at a chilly Free State Stadium was a losing bonus point. It brought them level with record seven-time champions the Crusaders on 46 points, but the South Africans stay third because of an inferior points difference.
Whichever team finishes second after the final round next weekend gets a bye into the semi-finals and a home fixture. But the side finishing third must win a home play-off against the sixth-place team on the final standings to reach the semi-finals.
The Crusaders host fellow New Zealanders the Highlanders next weekend while the Sharks visit Cape Town to face in-form fellow-South Africans the Stormers.
Defeat for the Sharks in Bloemfontein also opens the door for New South Wales Waratahs to take an unassailable lead at the top if they defeat visiting Highlanders Sunday. Topping the table earns a home semi-final and, if successful, a home final as well in a competition the Tahs have never won.
The Sydney clash is equally vital for Highlanders, who could climb two places to second ahead of the Crusaders if they achieve a bonus-point victory.
"I am very proud of my team and we mixed our game up nicely with running, kicking and grafting in the tight," said Cheetahs skipper and hooker Adriaan Strauss. "We are losing some players to overseas sides at the end of the season so it was nice to win our final home game of the season for them."
It was only the fourth victory of the season for the Bloemfontein team, who have failed to match their 2013 showing when they reached the play-offs.
Stand-in Sharks skipper and loose forward Jean Deysel offered no excuses: "We knew it was going to be tough and congratulations to the Cheetahs. We had our scoring opportunities, but failed to take advantage of them."
The Sharks pressed for a late try that could have earned a draw, but a brilliant tackle from Cheetahs centre Rayno Benjamin forced replacement wing Tonderai Chavhanga into touch just short of the line.
Success lifted the Cheetahs off the bottom of the table, a position now occupied by the Melbourne Rebels, who lost 34-17 to the Lions in Johannesburg on Friday.
Fly-half Johan Goosen kicked a penalty and converted a push-over try by flank Torsten van Jaarsveld to give the home side an early 10-point advantage. The Sharks responded by taking a 13-10 lead through a try by scrum-half Cobus Reinach with fly-half Tim Swiel converting and kicking two penalty goals.
Sustained Cheetahs' pressure led to another forward, No. 8 Philip van der Walt, going over between the posts and Goosen converted the try for a 17-13 half-time lead.
The trend of Cheetahs' forwards scoring tries continued on 49 minutes when new Springboks lock Lood de Jager dotted down and Goosen converted before adding a penalty. The 14-point lead remained intact for 20 minutes until replacement hooker Bismarck du Plessis claimed a try after a driving maul and Swiel converted.
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