Cheetahs claw closer to history

Sun, 28 Apr 2013 17:06
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The Cheetahs cleared a tricky hurdle on their road to a historic Super Rugby play-off in Bloemfontein at the weekend.

The Cheetahs cleared a tricky hurdle on their road to a historic Super Rugby play-off in Bloemfontein at the weekend.

The result against the Southern Kings could frankly be described as bittersweet given that the Cheetahs failed to secure a four-try bonus point.

Captain Adriaan Strauss played it safe in taking three points in the final quarter after he had turned down an earlier kickable penalty when the hosts had already scored three tries.
 
His change of heart and the Cheetahs’ inability to cash in against the newcomers marred the 26-12 win somewhat and the importance of the elusive log point will only be known at the end of the regular season.

It certainly was a curious call by Strauss when one considers that only four points separate the pace-setting Bulls from the fourth-placed Stormers in the South African Conference.

However, it’s not without logic, as fatigue was expected to take its toll on the Cheetahs in the dying minutes of their 10th consecutive match without a break.

The Cheetahs will be the first to admit that it was a lost opportunity, but they would be correct in their thinking that managing a seven-three win-loss record from such a demanding schedule overshadows a missed bonus point.

As the only South African team yet to receive a portion of their guaranteed eight log points (for their two byes) and with a schedule that includes just two more matches on the road (against the Kings and Stormers), the Cheetahs are well placed to reach their first ever Super Rugby play-off.

Ironically, the biggest threat to their play-off aspirations will come in the form of their remaining home games, all four of which will be against fellow play-off hopefuls.

Following their first bye this weekend, the Cheetahs will host the Hurricanes (ninth) next weekend and the Reds (fourth) the following weekend, with home games against the South African Conference-leading Bulls (third) and Blues (fifth) to follow.

It’s undoubtedly a bumpy road ahead and a loss in any one of their home fixtures would be a massive blow, but their endeavour to date has ensured that the Cheetahs - for the first time - have their Super Rugby destiny in their own hands.  

After seeing off the Waratahs, the Bulls will have their sights set on a home play-off with home games against the Hurricanes and Highlanders on either side of a bye and five local derbies wrapping up their regular season.

The Stormers and Sharks both still have three overseas assignments before returning home and the results of their tour openers are perhaps prophetic of their impending play-off charges, with the former having just enough mettle and the latter rather unluckily falling just short despite showing great character.

The Stormers (10th) have had both their byes but with a run-in that includes a tour match against the Melbourne Rebels and home and away games against the Kings, they will make a major push at a third consecutive South African Conference.

The injury-ravaged Sharks (eight) will target this weekend’s clash with the winless Highlanders in Dunedin, the Round 14 fixture against the Western Force in Perth and the final round home game against the Kings to boost their chances of a place in the six-team Finals Series.

By Quintin van Jaarsveld

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