Cheetahs 38 Leinster 19: So much for the failed experiment, the useless additions, the pointless expansion.
If this happens too often, the naysayers who sniffed at the inclusion of the Cheetahs in the new Guinness Pro14 will be asking for them to be removed — because they’re winning.
Last night, in Bloemfontein’s Free State Stadium, Rory Duncan’s men demolished the four-time champions, and did so in style.
Many thought Leinster would only have to turn up to take the points home, after the Cheetahs’ performances in Ireland earlier this month, but they could not have been more wrong.
In the end, Leinster were the side battling to win a losing bonus point, but even then they fell foul to the hosts’ blistering pace, with Luther Obi scoring a fourth try for the hosts in the dying seconds to give them all five points.
It all looked so different six minutes in, when Barry Daly scored the first of his three tries on the night.
The Cheetahs lost a lineout on their own five yard line, and with the hosts defence setting up narrowly, Leinster whipped the ball out wide where Daly ran home.
Ross Byrne missed the first of three first half kicks at goal, but Leinster were 5-3 ahead and the small home crowd must have feared another heavy defeat to Irish opposition.
Think again. Once they grew into the game, the Cheetahs looked a different team to the one that was humbled in Belfast and Limerick.
Their scrum was dominant, they held their own at the lineout and, most significantly, their work at the breakdown was far superior to earlier outings.
With all the backline pace and talent at their disposal, it will not need much more for results to go their way if those improvements continue.
Ernst Stapelberg did the most damage in the opening half hour, slotting home four penalties to ease the hosts into the lead.
The 22-year-old is the third different outhalf the Cheetahs have used in the Pro14, and he made the most of kicking at altitude, with two scores coming from just inside the halfway line.
The orange shirts became more dominant as time passed, but Leinster’s defence was up to the task, with Josh Van der Flier, on his 50th appearance for the province, plugging holes all over the pitch.
Leinster were dealt a blow inside 20 minutes though, when Isa Nacewa, their captain, was forced off injured.
Makazole Mapimpi and Sergeal Petersen were testing Leinster out wide, but when the breakthrough came it was right through the middle.
A huge scrum from the hosts sent Tian Meyer free, the scrum half fed Francois Venter, the Springbok centre, and he slashed through the Leinster midfield. He had support on both sides and William Small-Smith was given an easy run home.
There were 14 points between the sides at half time, with Leinster hoping their fitness and cohesion would get them back into the game, while the Cheetahs hoped altitude sickness may affect their visitors.
The hosts began the second half on the front foot, and when James Tracy was sent to the bin for a dangerous play, they took full advantage.
Turning down two kickable penalties, their faith was rewarded when Torsten van Jaarsveld crossed the line to put 19 points between the sides.
There was no further score with Tracy in the bin but just two minutes after Leinster were back to XV, Ox Nche, the Cheetahs replacement, burrowed home from close range.
Leinster’s fightback began on the hour, with Daly scoring his second try and a third arrived with six minutes left on the clock, rounding off an attack that began under the Leinster posts.
With three minutes to go, Leinster were dreaming of a most unlikely comeback but it wasn’t to come. Instead the last score, and laugh, went to the hosts, who have now well and truly arrived.
Cheetahs: Tries: Small-Smith (36), Van Jaarsveld (43), Nche (56) Obi, (80); Cons: (Stapelberg, 37, 57, 80); Pens: Stapelberg (2, 10, 19, 25) Leinster: Tries: Daly (6, 59, 74) ; Cons: (Byrne 60, 74,)
J Carbery; D Kearney, N Reid, I Nacewa (c) (rep: O’Loughlin, 17), B Daly; R Byrne (rep: Marsh, 74), J Gibson-Park (rep: McCarthy, 61); C Healy (rep: Dooley, 50), J Tracy (rep: Murphy, 56 (rep: Deegan 71)), M Bent (rep: Porter, 50); R Molony, M Kearney (rep: Ruddock, 51); J Murphy (Cronin, 51), J van der Flier, J Conan.
S Petersen; R Specman (rep: Obi, 67), F Venter (c), W Small-Smith (rep: Lee, 64), M Mapimpi; E Stapelberg, T Meyer (rep: S Venter, 62); C Marais (rep: Nche, 45), T van Jaarsveld (rep: du toit, 79), T Botha (rep: Coetzee, 46); J Basson, Reniel Hugo (rep: Bernardo, 74); P Schoeman, H Venter, O Mohoje.
Mike Adamson (SRU)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved