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Francis drops in for the Cheetahs

Sat, 06 Apr 2013 17:05
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Cheetahs flyhalf kicked 16 points
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Burton Francis kicked 16 points, including a drop-goal, to help the Cheetahs beat the Stormers 26-24 in a thrilling Super Rugby match in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

The match, in which the teams scored two tries each, was only the Cheetahs' third win in 10 encounters with the Stormers and their first since 2007.

And the Cheetahs added another chapter to their historic season, which already included an unprecedented three consecutive wins in Australasia, when they won five consecutive Super Rugby matches for the first time - keeping them firmly in the play-off zone.

What a wonderful game on a perfect afternoon in Bloemfontein!

There was so much to be excited about and so much to talk about, and it was decided with a kick after 83 minutes, three minutes beyond the scheduled end.

Anybody who saw it would have been enthralled right to the end - living out of himself in the players on the field, as emotions - like the score - spun to the heights and then plunged to the depths and then soared high again.

And in the eventual end there was a lot of happiness in Bloemfontein.

Who says that a South African derby has to be dour? This one certainly was not.

For the Cheetahs it is their fifth successive win this compeition and lots of happiness. For the Stormers it is their fourth defeat in this competition with the Sharks and an overseas tour looming.

The Cheetahs will head to Pretoria next with lots and lots of confidence to make their baggage lighter.

For the Stormers crisis continues.

Each side scored two tries. The Cheetahs had glorious luck with one and the Stormers got away with one. And in the end the difference between the two sides was a conversion. Burton Francis goaled two, Joe Petersen one.

It was a match of great intensity. The Cheetahs' new-found ability to defend was a great foundation for their victory. Their ability to play quickly on attack was brilliant and gave them their first try.

Both teams gave of their best and if there was a dip for a while in energy in the second half it was because so much had been expended. And then the players rallied again for the last hoorah.

In fact the end was symptomatic of the match's emotional yoyo. From inside his own half Francis, who had been brilliant, kicked over the Stormers' dead-ball line with just over a minute to play. Cheetah hearts plummetted; Stormers hopes soared.

But, bless the Cheetahs front row, they did not accept their fate and shoved the Stormers off their ball and then they had a scrum of their own. Despair was turning to hope; security was wobbling. The Cheetahs won the scrum but time was up as they played. Jean de Villiers was penalised at a tackle. The Cheetahs tapped and played on. Damian De Allende was penalised at a tackle far out and not far in from touch. Francis's kick never looked like missing, and the divide between winners and losers was a chasm.

This Saturday the Cheetahs suffered as the Stormers had suffered the previous week in the line-outs. The first time they threw in Andries Bekker won the ball. The second time they threw in De Kock Steenkamp won the ball. It probably annoyed the Cheetahs more than dismayed them.

Bekker led the Stormers onto the field, the first player to play 100 matches for them but the afternoon started on a sombre note as the stadium stood in silence in honour of Gerda van Solms,the Free State Rugby Union's CEO, the first woman in South African rugby to hold such a position. She had been working for the union for 37 years. She became suddenly ill on Friday, went to hospital and died there, only 58 years of age.

Both sides started with enthusiasm as the teams went through phases and it ended with enthusiasm. The Cheetahs set the first and last phases of the afternoon. In that first set Francis, Heinrich Brüssow and Lourens Adriaanse went close but Adriaanse lost the ball in Bekker's rough tackle. The Stormers escaped and when Lappies Labuschagne was penalised at a tackle, Petersen goaled. 3-0 after 8 minutes.

The Stormers were on the attack and Nic Groom, without pressure, fired the ball low at Steven Kitshoff's boots. The ball rebounded forward to Robert Ebersohn who sidestepped and booted downfield. The eager Cheetahs raced after the ball while Jaco Taute ambled to it. Taute got the ball and Raymond Rhule and other Cheetahs got him. The Cheetahs attacked and went left where Ebersohn, on an overlap, went under Bekker's tackle and scored in the left corner. From touch Francis goaled. 7-3 after 20 minutes.

It was now the Stormers' turn to attack at speed but the home side's defence was unbudging.

At this stage Taute, tackled by Willie le Roux, was taken off on the motorised stretcher, obviously in pain from a knee injury.

Groom did a chip and gather, and the Stormers attacked on the left. Juan de Jongh passed a long pass to De Villiers near the left touchline. De Villiers immediately played inside to Deon Fourie who headed for the line. Brought down close to the line he laid the ball back and De Jongh picked up to plunge over for the try. 8-7 after 32 minutes.

The Cheetahs were penalised within kicking range and Groom tapped. But Steenkamp was penalised at a tackle.

Then Lady Luck smiled on the Stormers. Gio Aplon raced out of his own half, chipped and gathered. Hemmed in he chipped again. Fourie was nearest to the ball but overran it. Aplon footed again. The ball struck Fourie's legs when Fourie was ahead of Aplon and rebounded to Kitshoff who drove at the line. The Cheetahs stopped him but were penalised five metres from their line, next to their posts. De Villiers tapped and drove at the line and Kitshoff drove at the line before Groom went wide left where De Jongh forced his way through Francis and Piet van Zyl to score a try. If the rebound had been seen it would have been a scrum to the Cheetahs, not a try to the Stormers.

That made the half-time score 15-7 to the Stormers.

Elton Jantjies tackled high four minutes into the second half and Francis goaled from touch. 15-10.

Then the Cheetahs got fortunate. On the tight-hand side of the field Groom opted to kick a box kick with his left foot, his preferred foot. But Sarel Pretorius, on in the place of Van Zyl, was there to charge the ball down. He did more than charge the ball down. It stuck, clamped by his arms to his abdomen and the scrumhalf set off on a race for the left corner where he scored. And again Francis converted. The Cheetahs now led 17-15 after 49 minutes.

Sarel Pretorius went off with a damaged thigh at this stage. He had already taken the place of Van Zyl, which meant that the Cheetahs had used up their scrumhalf resources but on came Ryno Benjamin and played scrumhalf, seemingly seamlessly.

From the kick-off after the try, Brüssow was penalised at the tackle and Petersen gave the Stormers back their lead. 18-17.

Siya Kolisi had a burst down the midfield, Trevor Nyakane was penalised at the tackle and Petersen goaled. 21-17 after 54 minutes. Then Kolisi was himself penalised and Francis goaled. 21-20 after 60 minutes.

Fortunes were fluctuating in the most exciting way.

The Stormers were in trouble as Aplon carried over but faced by four Cheetahs he passed the ball to Petersen near the dead-ball line. Petersen kicked. The kick was not out. Francis caught it near touch on his left and kicked a soaring drop. The Cheetahs led 23-21. It was agony if you were a fan.

With five minutes to play Brüssow, swollen eye and all, was penalised at a tackle. Petersen goaled. 24-23 with five minutes to play.

Then came the end game with its highs and lows - Francis kicking dead, the Cheetahs winning the tighthead, the Stormers penalised, the Cheetahs playing in phases, the Stormers penalised again and Francis kicking the winning kick to become the hero of Bloemfontein.

Man of the Match: It was an easy choice. Burton Francis - the Cheetahs third-choice flyhalf who got his chance, because of injuries, against the Rebels and was brilliant. He was there again and brilliant again in the calmest of ways in the hottest of battles.

The scorers:

For the Cheetahs:
Tries:
Ebersohn, Pretorius
Cons: Francis 2
Pens: Francis 3
DG: Francis

For the Stormers:
Tries:
De Jongh 2
Con: Pietersen
Pens: Pietersen 4

Teams:

Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Burton Francis,  9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Rynhardt Landman, 19 Johannes Prinsloo, 20 Sarel Pretorius, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Ryno Benjamin.

Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Joe Pietersen, 13 Juan De Jongh, 12 Jean De Villiers (captain), 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Gerbrandt Grobler, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Gary Van Aswegen, 22 Damian De Allende.

Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Francois de Bruin (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)

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