The Rebels recorded their biggest win in Super Rugby when they scored a comprehensive 35-14 win over an out-of-sorts Cheetahs team in Melbourne on Friday.
The final margin is not just a true reflection of the game, the Rebels full value for the win.
The Cheetahs also contributing to their own downfall. They simply lacked the desire shown by the home team in bucketloads.
Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss put it in a nutshell when he said: “We didn’t pitch up.”
The Cheetahs were caught napping all too often throughout the match, as the Rebels sped up the game – quick throw-ins, slick handling and all-sorts at the breakdown.
It was a quick cross-field kick from a penalty by captain Scott Higginbotham early in the first half that really put their game-pan into perspective. They were not interested in engaging the Cheetahs at forward battle and wanted to keep the play as unstructured as possible.
Showing far greater enthusiasm, the Rebels were able to find gaps all over the field, even though their finishing let them down at times.
In return the visitors appeared well off their game – too many errors and having difficulty to adapt to some of the eccentric calls by the match officials. Captain Adriaan Strauss was remonstrating with the referee and his assistants on numerous occasions.
The Rebels managed to counter the Cheetahs’ weight advantage at scrum time with some sneaky tactics, getting penalised at times, but mostly getting the rub of the green with the calls.
What the Cheetahs could not argue with was that they fell off tackles all too easily and most the tries were the result of their sloppy defence. Add to that some poor line-out play, sloppy handling (20 turnovers) and shocking out of hand kicking and you have the real reason why they struggled to get into the game.
The early stages of the game was marked by plenty of kicking, some of it very ordinary efforts, and a territorial game.
However, the Rebels quickly showed their counter-attacking ability – a line-out error by the Cheetahs handing the ball to the Rebels. They worked it through the phases long enough to suck in a few defenders and then went side to the right where Lachlan Mitchell sneaked over in the corner.
The conversion attempt by Jason Woodward was not on target and he also missed a penalty shot just on the 10-minute mark.
Cheetahs flyhalf Johan Goosen had a shocker of his own – a hack at the ball and a penalty attempt he would like to forget.
At the end of the first quarter captain Scott Higginbotham opted for a quick cross-field kick from a penalty and with the Cheetahs sleep-walking Jason Woodward was virtually unopposed in the ingoal area.
The kicking woes continued – Woodward missed the conversion attempt and Bryce Hegarty a penalty shot – leaving the home team with a 10-0 advantage at the half-hour mark.
Four minutes from the break the Rebels went offside at a line-out and Goosen, from 40 metres out right in front, again hooked it past the left upright.
Right on the half-time hooter the Cheetahs were again caught sleep-walking – scrumhalf Luke Burgess sneaking between a few defenders for the third try. Hegarty added the conversion to make it 17-0 at the break.
The Cheetahs got the second half off to the perfect start – a penalty that became a line-out and a powerful maul saw Jean Cook score his team’s try within a minute after coming onto the field as a replacement for Johannes Prinsloo. Goosen finally slotted a kick, the conversion making it 7-17.
In the 51st minute the Rebels were reduced to 14 men after Scott Fuglistaller was caught by the TMO punching Cook at a scrum.
However, again using their high-paced counter-attacking game the Rebels got their bonus-point try in the 59th minute – a poor kick by Goosen resulting in Hegarty going over for the bonus-point try – the conversion making it 24-7.
Right on the 70-minute mark the Cheetahs – after yet another foul play penalty – they mauled it up and replacement hooker Ryno Barnes had an arm-chair ride into the in-goal are. Goosen’s conversion made it a 10-point game – 14-24.
However, with five minutes left on the clock Angus Roberts slotted a drop-goal and he added a penalty a minute from time.
But the cherry on top was a try by captain Scott Higginbotham after the full-time hooter – making it 35-14 for their biggest Super Rugby win.
Man of the match: Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss did his best to get his team into the game, but very few of his teammates showed the same enthusiasm. Sean McMahon had a great debut and did plenty of hard graft in the tight exchanges. Fullback Jason Woodward had his moments on attack. Rebels scrumhalf Luke Burgess caused the Cheetahs’ defensive all sorts of problems around the edges and provide a snappy services for those outside backs when they needed quick ball. Our award goes to Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham, who got himself involved in everything – kicks, turnovers, holding up mauls and scoring the final try well after the full-time hooter.
For the Rebels:
Tries: Mitchell, Woodward, Burgess, Hegarty, Higginbotham
Cons: Hegarty 2
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Cook, Barnes
Cons: Goosen 2
Yellow card: Scott Fuglistaller (Rebels, 51 – foul play, punching)