Cheetahs go down to Pau to suffer first defeat in Challenge Cup

FILE - Cheetahs head coach Hawies Fourie. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images via BackpagePix

FILE - Cheetahs head coach Hawies Fourie. Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images via BackpagePix

Published Jan 14, 2024


The Cheetahs will remain second in Pool 1 of the European Challenge Cup after failing to beat Pau on Sunday afternoon in a rainy Amsterdam, losing 20-33.

Sloppy play and ill-discipline cost the South Africans the top spot in the group after the Sharks overtook them on Saturday, thanks to a clinical win over another French outfit Oyonnax in Durban.

After upsetting the Sharks last time out, Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie would've banked on his team to retake the first spot at their European home stadium in the Netherlands, but they never got out of the blocks at kickoff.

It took the Free State team just over 30 minutes to get on the scoreboard after Pau took an early 14-0 lead. It was two soft tries the visitors scored, and two tries Fourie will not be happy about.

The Cheetahs were under the pump for most of the first half and made questionable errors on attack and defence, allowing Pau to score the double within minutes of each other.

Fourie's men also created ample attacking opportunities, and they should've capitalised. But those handling errors, poor decision-making on the attack, and that sky-high penalty count were fatal.

Pau even played with 14 men for 20 minutes of the game, but still, the Cheetahs could not exploit that.

After the early scores by fullback Jack Maddox and outside centre Emmiien Gailleton, the Free State did well to turn the tide around. They had to play catchup rugby, and that came with risks that teams normally do not take.

But they woke up just after 30 minutes and a double score just before half-time brought the score to a respectable 12-17 at the break.

The Cheetahs had to be the first to score in the second forty, but they could not achieve that as an early penalty goal opened the scoring for their opponents.

Two more penalties and lively scrumhalf Dan Robson's solo effort for a converted try sealed the win for the visitors. Late in the game, after some silky sniping around the ruck, replacement scrumhalf Rewan Kruger created some space, but a knock-on butchered that attempt at a try.

If the Cheetahs had scored there, the result could've been different.

At the death, both sides threw the kitchen sink at each other, looking for a bonus-point try. There were chances for it, but in the end, Pau had to settle for the four points, while the Cheetahs will leave Amsterdam empty-handed.

They face bottom-feeders Oyonnax this Saturday in the final pool clash, and five points should be on the cards for Fourie's men. If they lose, a difficult Challenge Cup playoff game could be their fate.


Cheetahs 20 — Tries: Munier Hartzenberg, Jeandre Rudolph, Louis van der Westhuizen. Conversion: Ruan Pienaar. Penalty: Pienaar.

Pau 33 — Tries: Jack Maddocks, Emilien Gailleton, Dan Robson. Conversions: Axel Desperes (2), Thibault Debaes. Penalties: Desperes (4).


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