The Cheetahs’ fairytale season came to an agonising end as they lost their maiden Super Rugby play-off match against the Brumbies in Canberra Stadium on Sunday.
It was all a little helter skelter for the Cheetahs as they showed their inexperience by not taking the points on offer and making silly mistakes in trying to rush the play.
It was a game the Cheetahs could still have won, though, this being their first defeat to an Australian team this season, and without doubt their best campaign since their Cats partnership with the Lions came to an end after the 2005 season.
So, despite being outscored by two tries to nil, the Brumbies’ nail-biting 15-13 victory means they now have to travel to Pretoria to take on the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
And perhaps that is not the worst result for South African rugby. Had the Cheetahs won, they would have had to travel to Waikato to take on the log-leading Chiefs, while the Bulls would have had a very uncomfortable afternoon hosting the high riding Crusaders
Instead, the first semi-final is an all-New Zealand affair in Hamilton between the defending champion Chiefs and the seven-time champions Crusaders, who crushed the Reds in their one-sided quarter final on Saturday morning (38-9).
Brumbies 15 (6) Cheetahs 13 (5)
An unconverted last-minute try by Ryno Benjamin was not enough as the Cheetahs’ first-ever Super Rugby play-off appearance ended in heartbreak in Canberra as the Brumbies won the second quarter final 15-13 on Sunday morning.
The Cheetahs outscored their Aussie hosts by two tries to nil, but with referee Glenn Jackson being especially tough on the visitors, with some calls especially perplexing, and the Cheetahs not playing particularly clever finals rugby, they struggled to get momentum via possession and territory until late in the game.
By the time the Cheetahs built up some steam, it was already too late as the Brumbies lead by 7, and would have in all likelihood, been too good for the visitors in extra time. After not taking 2 shots at goal, which might have been the better option, they applied the pressure late in the game and when replacement wing Benjamin dived over in the corner, Riaan Smit (flyhalf) had a difficult conversion to push the game into extra time. But he missed …
Cheetahs centre Johann Sadie scored the only other try of the match when he went over in the 17th minute try after a fantastic flat pass by wing Willie le Roux. Smit missed the wide conversion – his second failed attempt of the match after missing an earlier penalty goal.
Although the Cheetahs defended very well throughout the match, they were ultimately undone by a stream of penalties, especially at the breakdowns and scrum time. The visitors conceded 14 penalties in total, five of which were converted into points by the Brumbies’ kickers, Christian Lealiifano and Nic White.
It was also not best tactical kicking display of the season from the Cheetahs, which compounded their territorial woes.
Heinrich Brussow again made Bok coach Heyneke Meyer look a little silly, with a match altering performance, but yet again, coach Naka Drotske chose to move Coenie Oosthuizen to tighthead prop when bringing on Trevor Nyakane. It is a move that has not worked in the past, and again did not work this time, with the Cheetahs coming under immense pressure come scrum time, twice giving away full arm penalties.
Brumbies – Penalty goals: Christian Lealiifano (4), Nic White.
Cheetahs – Tries: Johann Sadie, Ryno Benjamin. Penalty goal: Riaan Smit.
Crusaders 38 (21) Reds 9 (6)
Crusaders – Tries: Ryan Crotty (2), Dan Carter, Tom Marshall. Conversions: Carter (3). Penalty goals: Carter (3).
Reds – Penalty goals: Quade Cooper (3).
The 2013 Super Rugby Semi-finals (Both Saturday 27 July):
09h35 – Chiefs v Crusaders
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand
Referee: Steve Walsh
AR1: Glen Jackson
AR2: Chris Pollock
TMO: Glenn Newman
17h05 – Bulls v Brumbies
Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria, South Africa
Referee: Craig Joubert
AR1: Jaco Peyper
AR2: Stuart Berry
TMO: Shaun Veldsman