The Cheetahs kept a first appearance in the Super XV playoffs in sight after easing to a 26-12 win over the Southern Kings on Saturday.
Tries by wings Raymond Rhule and Willie le Roux, and flanker Lappies Labuschagne set up the Cheetahs’ seventh win in 10, taking them back into the top six in what is shaping up to be their best campaign in Super Rugby.
As part of the Cats franchise, the Cheetahs made the semi-finals twice more than a decade ago, but they have not been contenders again until this season.
Rhule sped away in the seventh minute for the opener, Labuschagne was involved twice in an attack to score in the 31st minute and Le Roux darted in early in the second half to send the Cheetahs away to another victory.
The Kings had four penalties by Demetri Catrakilis as the competition newcomers’ own season began to slip away after two wins over Australian opposition and a memorable draw at the ACT Brumbies.
The Cheetahs could not take a four-try bonus point at their Free State Stadium that would have pushed them back above the Pretoria-based Bulls and top of the South African conference, but they were comfortable winners ahead of their first bye following 10 straight weeks of rugby.
Rhule scored his fifth try this season after a break by scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, taking a pass and sprinting away to bang the ball down on the line as he was tackled by the cover defense.
Labuschagne manages to momentarily shrug off a left-arm injury — sustained in a collision with one of his own teammates — to link twice with Van Zyl for his try. The loose forward left the field due to his injury straight after scoring.
Le Roux threw a dummy and nipped in five minutes into the second half, while flyhalf Burton Francis kicked 11 points as the Cheetahs were in control throughout.
CRUSADERS 30, REBELS 26
AP, CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand
Crusaders fullback Tom Taylor scored 20 points from a conversion and six penalties to lift the hosts to victory over the Melbourne Rebels in their Super XV match yesterday.
The Crusaders started well with two tries from Melbourne turnovers to take an early 12-0 lead, before the Rebels hit back.
The Rebels’ James O’Connor started and finished a sprawling attacking movement to score one of the tries of the season in the 51st minute, closing the gap on the Crusaders to 21-19.
Hooker Jed Robinson then scored from a brilliantly executed set-piece at a lineout and O’Connor converted from the sideline to give the Rebels their first lead of the match with 24 minutes remaining.
However, the Crusaders, who had been rattled by the Rebels’ physical style and who had struggled to play in the face of a strong wind in the second half, regrouped and regained the lead with a series of late penalties.
Taylor kicked three goals in the final 17 minutes to put the hosts in front and they were able to hold on to their brittle four-point margin under pressure.
BULLS 30, WARATAHS 19
The Bulls were stung into action by a free-flowing New South Wales Waratahs in the Super XV on Saturday, with 25 points from flyhalf Morne Steyn.
Scrumhalf Francois Hougaard and Steyn went over for late tries to ensure the Bulls escaped after the Waratahs shrugged off a slow start to score three tries and lead with 15 minutes to go.
Fullback Israel Folau, replacement Paddy Ryan and flyhalf Bernard Foley all crossed for the Australian side to give them a chance of ending an eight-year losing streak against three-time champions the Bulls, but Hougaard wriggled over to mark his comeback from injury and Steyn added the finishing touch.