Cheetahs’ eloquent victory

2009-04-12 00:00

The Cheetahs eloquently, decisively and painfully highlighted the importance of the mental game in providing a monumental upset and toppling the Sharks 31-6 in their Super 14 game in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The Sharks are still top of the log, but they could have opened a seven-point lead gap with a win over the Cheetahs. Instead they must now win all four of their remaining games (all at home against the Crusaders, Highlanders, Waratahs and Bulls) to be assured of finishing in the top two and hosting a semi-final.

If they fail to reach their objective this season, the Sharks will be left ruing extraordinary defeats by teams 13th (the Reds) and 14th (the Cheetahs) on the log.

The Cheetahs took to the field on Saturday with just two bonus points — they were 28 behind the Sharks —to show for their season’s efforts but they played like champions. Their work in their set piece, at the breakdown, in attack and defence, was superb. They were in the faces of the flustered Sharks from the start to finish and the reward was an emphatic four tries to nil victory and by a margin of 25 points.

It was a remarkable turnabout in form and it remains a mystery why players who have fiddled and faffed their way to a string of defeats can suddenly turn on the charm and produce 80 minutes of compelling rugby.

Sharks head coach John Plumtree told The Witness yesterday that he had his reasons why the Sharks had lost. “But, if I start trotting them out now, they will sound like excuses. And we have no excuses. The Cheetahs really went out and performed and we did not. Simple as that.”

Plumtree said that the Sharks were half a pace off the game throughout and “if that happens in this competition you can get badly beaten”.

“It happened against the Reds and it happened again against the Cheetahs.”

Plumtree said that Saturday’s game, in the minds of the Cheetahs, was nothing to do with the Super 14.

“That was all about a local derby, played on a hot afternoon on the highveld against motivated opposition. It has happened to the Sharks in the past and it will happen again.”

Plumtree said the players had come through a series of exceptionally hard clashes in successive weekends (against the Force, Brumbies and Hurricanes), which involved an enormous amount of tackling and that may have contributed to them being “off their games”.

“It was a bad loss, but we now have to concern ourselves with the future and not about a past defeat. In this competition, with a game every weekend, you have to move on quickly or you suffer even more.”

Cheetahs loose forwards Heinrich Brüssow and Juan Smith were outstanding in the win while flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter, with space and time behind his advancing forwards, was seldom under pressure and his outside backs were able to run at pace on to the ball.

One sensed it was not to be the Sharks’ day when front-row forwards Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis were late withdrawals.

“Beast has a bit of ’flu and Bismarck a rib injury. We are hoping both will be ready for the Crusaders this Saturday,” Plumtree said.

Powerful flank Jean Deysel, who damaged a knee in New Zealand, could play off the bench on Saturday while JP Pietersen and Ruan Pienaar will be back after the weekend bye on April 25. This will be a huge boost for the Sharks.

There were positives in the match but no one tried harder than Francois Steyn, Stefan Terblanche and Keegan Daniel in what was a limp, disjointed display against committed opposition.

It was not just that the Sharks, the tournament favourites, lost that was disturbing but rather the manner of the defeat. They were eclipsed in every area and looked anything but potential champions.

Page 14: Super 14 round-up.

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