The Cheetahs recorded their first Super Rugby win of the season with a comprehensive 36-19 win over the Highlanders at Rugby Park in Invercargill on Saturday night.
The Highlanders, coming off the bye, looked disjointed and not even the return of hooker Andrew Hore from suspension and locking legend Brad Thorn’s first game for the franchise could spark them.
They struggled for momentum against a superb Cheetahs forward pack, and possibly also missed the influence of All Blacks midfielder Ma’a Nonu, out with a late knee injury.
Skipper Adriaan Strauss said the win was invaluable, especially looking ahead to next week’s clash across the ditch against the Waratahs.
“We needed this win – we’ve got a couple of youngsters in the squad and we needed a bit of confidence,” he told Sky TV.
“I think the guys have that belief now.”
The Cheetahs ran in three first-half tries, a stark contrast to last week’s 45-3 defeat by the Chiefs when they couldn’t buy a five-pointer, and led 30-7 at the break.
Halfback and former Waratah Sarel Pretorius opened the scoring at 20 minutes, latching onto a well-timed inside flick from flanker Lappies Labuschagne as he burst down the left wing.
Stung into action, the Highlanders replied five minutes later when five-eighth Lima Sopoaga’s kick through found winger Kade Poki in perfect position to score.
From then on, however, Sopoaga’s night careered downhill as he gifted the Cheetahs 14 points with two horrible mistakes.
The first came on the half-hour mark as he tried to chip over the flat Cheetahs defensive line, only to see second five-eighth Robert Ebersohn charge the kick down and canter over unopposed for the try.
Pretorius then picked up his second five minutes from halftime, snaffling Sopoaga’s attempted flip to Hosea Gear with the Highlanders hot on attack and running 70m unopposed to touch down.
Five-eighth Johan Goosen’s boot was clinical in adding the extras, banging over five penalties and three conversions to keep the home team’s hopes of a fightback well under wraps.
Coach Jamie Joseph benched Sopoaga for All Blacks No.10 Colin Slade three minutes before halftime, and the Highlanders began the second spell promisingly as Poki crossed for his second try after four minutes.
But the Cheetahs defence regrouped and held strong, and not even Poki’s third try of the night, coming after he sliced through four tackles in the 73rd minute, could put the final result in doubt.