BLOEMFONTEIN – The Cheetahs made the PRO14 competition sit up and take notice when they soundly beat Irish giants Leinster 38-19 at the Free State Stadium on Friday night.
Last year, Leinster lost just one game and went into this fixture unbeaten in three, but they had no answer to the relentless attacking style of the home side.
Questions have recently been asked in Ireland, Scotland and Wales as to the calibre of the South African contribution to the competition. They won’t ask again, certainly not of the Cheetahs.
The Free Staters had a superb start to the game when wing Sergeal Petersen broke the line and got his forwards into a position to earn a penalty, goaled by Ernst Stapelberg after just 90 seconds.
But straight from the kickoff, the Dublin team rampaged up the field and after a siege on the line, the ball was sped out to unmarked wing Barry Daly to score.
The conversion was missed by flyhalf Ross Byrne, who two minutes later missed a relatively easy penalty attempt.
That would have hurt all the more when a minute later Stapelberg, the young former Maties flyhalf, nailed a good penalty goal to give his side a 6-5 lead after 10 minutes.
The Cheetahs were growing in confidence and dominated the next 10 minutes, and were rewarded three more points via Stapelberg.
The home side continued to hold the upper hand and Stapelberg kept knocking the points over, his fourth penalty coming in the 26th minute (12-5).
The rampant Cheetahs then scored an immaculate try that was initiated by a set scrum that surged forward to give the backs excellent front-foot ball, with centre Francois Venter breaking clean through, drawing the fullback and giving the try to fellow midfielder William Small-Smith.
Stapelberg converted, just before halftime, with his side in a commanding 19-5 lead.
Two minutes into the second half, the confident Cheetahs turned down an easy kick at goal and backed their lineout drive.
And although they did not immediately score, in defending the line, Leinster hooker James Tracy was yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle.
This time when the Cheetahs kicked to the corner, they drove over easily, the try going to hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld.
Stapelberg missed his first kick, but at 24-5, the Irishmen were in trouble.
Fifteen minutes into the half, Stapelberg again kicked for the corner instead of taking the points, and replacement prop Ox Nche barrelled over for a popular score with the crowd.
At 31-5 down, Leinster were stung into action and Daly scored his second try with 20 minutes to go, a mirror image of his try in the first half when the forwards freed him up for a canter to the line.
That try lifted Leinster and for the first time, they started to dominate possession and territory and force the Cheetahs into conceding penalties.
The home team were now doing the defending, and they were mostly up to the task, holding out until the 74th minute when Daly scored his hat-trick and at 31-19, it was game on.
Fittingly the Cheetahs had the last say in the game when, after the hooter, replacement wing Luther Obi intercepted on his team’s 22 to run to the posts for the bonus-point try.
Cheetahs 38 – Tries: William Small-Smith, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Ox Nche, Luther Obi. Conversions: Ernst Stapelberg (3). Penalties: Stapelberg (4).
Leinster 19 – Tries: Barry Daly (3). Conversions: Ross Byrne (2).
African News Agency (ANA)