Cheetahs reveal their spots against Highlanders
March 9, 2013
The Cheetahs surprised their hosts from the opening whistle%]
The Cheetahs have stunned the Highlanders in Invercargill, the South African side recovering from their round-three shellacking by the Chiefs to trump the South Islanders 36-19.
Cheetahs half-back Sarel Pretorius and No. 7 Pieter Labuschagne were key figures for the visitors, involved in many of the South African side's best moments, including their opening try to the half-back that capped a pacy, wide attack from a second-phase ruck inside their own half.
The Cheetahs also drew full reward for their territory and possession, with fly-half Johan Goosen kicking eight from eight at goal - including six in the first half as the visitors asserted their dominance - in contrast with his three misses that cost the team momentum on the scoreboard against the Chiefs.
The Highlanders, meanwhile, seemed to miss the power and play-making influence of Ma'a Nonu, after the All Blacks centre withdrew late with a minor knee injury to be replaced by Shaun Treeby; their defence was broken too easily, and their attack lacked direction in the hands of Lima Sopoaga. Indeed, the Highlanders fly-half was dragged after a mixed performance, replaced by returning All Blacks five-eighth Colin Slade three minutes before the interval.
Sopoaga was integral in the Highlanders' try in the first half, involved twice in successive phases close to the line before his grubber kick behind the defence set up Kade Poki; but he otherwise endured a personal nightmare with a penalty goal hitting the crossbar before he gifted the Cheetahs converted intercept breakaway tries to Pretorius and Robert Ebersohn.
Cheetahs half-back Sarel Pretorius scored two tries in a revealing performance © Getty Images
The Highlanders scored a try almost immediately after half-time to give the home crowd hope of a remarkable comeback, Poki claiming his second five-pointer after Hosea Gear, Brad Thorn and Ben Smith had been heavily involved in strong, hard-running phase play; but they lacked the precision and execution of the Chiefs, who put the Cheetahs to the sword in the second stanza last week, and the visitors hung on easily despite conceding a third try to the hard-running Poki seven minutes from full-time.
The Cheetahs were buoyed further by the reappearance of Heinrich Brussow after four months out of the silks with a shoulder injury, and the Springboks fetcher was back immediately to his pilfering best.
The Highlanders, conversely, are looking at a season in danger of slipping away after just four rounds, their two defeats to this point not the return envisaged by pundits who had expected them to be major title contenders.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph must also look at his ever-increasing injury list, with Treeby carried from the field with a serious-looking knee injury midway through the second half.
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