The heavy Sydney rains subsided just prior to kick-off leaving a moist but well-drained Sydney Football Stadium holding a crowd of 15,849. The Waratahs came out with entertainment on their minds, attacking from the kick-off and moving the ball all around the park.
Early raids by the Waratahs pressured the Cheetahs’ line yet returned no points. At one point they won a penalty right in front, Burgess took a quick tap and the Tahs turned the ball over after several threatening movements.
The Cheetahs soon got their opportunity to attack and after a few phases for no gain slipped into a territorial game plan — one perhaps more suited to the slippery conditions. The Tahs competed well in the air, with Mowen and Mumm applying pressure to the Cheetahs lineout.
Waratah defensive lines held strong, leading to a Cheetahs attacking kick towards the Tah five-metre line which was pounced on by Kurtley. Rather than hoof it for the safety of touch, he ran it back then fired a back-handed flick pass to Burgess in front of our poles. Burgo stepped and put Mumm into a gap, allow the big lock the freedom to gallop for about 25 metres, where the Cheetahs bought him down.
First points were scored at the 15-minute mark via the boot of Sias Ebersohn.
John Ulugia couldn’t do everything for he who gives him strength, with the Cheetahs stealing three consecutive lineouts to relieve the pressure applied by the Tahs. While the scrum exchanges were pretty even, Ulugia’s debut was cut after half an hour, bringing Damien Fitzpatrick on.
Territory and possession continued to be split through the half with the Cheetahs replacement Sarel Pretorius judiciously kicking into the Tahs’ 22. The art of subtlety seemed lost on the Cheetahs scrum, with the call of “Swing, Swing” somehow alerting the ref to their crooked drive.
A call from the touch judge alerted referee Nathan Pearce to Oosthuizen and Ryno Barnes being offside pillars, earning the Tahs their first and only points of the outing, with Kurtley slotting the penalty to level the score at 3–3. Scoreboard parity was not to last long, however, with the Tahs being penalised at the next play for a hand in the ruck and Ebersohn’s penalty shot retaking the lead.
Cliffy Palu enjoyed a busy 36 minutes in his return to the sky blue, before Dave Dennis was subbed on to close out the half. Late in the half the Cheetahs pushed into the Tahs’ 22 and fired a drop goal attempt, which missed to the right. The handling errors continued into half-time, with many points being left out on the field. The Cheetahs led 6–3 at the break, and deserved full credit for keeping their line secure.
The Cheetahs opened the second half the way they closed the first, winning a penalty for a Damien Fitzpatrick offside offence. Ebersohn kicked the penalty to take the lead out to 9–3.
An incident that seemed typical of the night came five minutes into the second half: the Tahs scrum monstered the Cheetahs pack to win a tighthead, only for Ben Mowen to step into touch as he picked up the ball.
The Tahs followed that effort with a lineout win on the Cheetahs’ throw, and quick ball led to a Dave Dennis break. He offloaded to Pat McCutcheon, who showed Greg Somerville-like skills in spilling the ball with the line open.
A kicking duel ensued, which with some penalties and a knock-on led to a Tahs scrum feed on the Cheetahs’ 22. A good set piece allowed clean ball to Barnes, who dropped it backwards. Lots of pressure by the Cheetahs at the breakdown forced the turnover, and a superb kick, chase and tackle by Sarel Pretorious led to the Cheetahs feeding a scrum on the Tahs’ 5-metre line and looking to increase their lead.
A solid scrum from the Cheetahs had their forwards picking and driving against the Tahs’ wall of defence, which did well to withstand the pressure without incurring Pearce’s whistle. The Cheetahs knocked on, the Tahs kicked in-field, and it was back on for the Cheetahs’ backs with an enterprising kick.
A partially charged down Berrick Barnes kick had the Tahs throwing a lineout on the Cheetahs’ 5-metre line, which they won, and Barnes put in a very ordinary cross-field kick that led to a Cheetahs try 80 metres away.
At the 60-minute mark, with the rain starting again and the Cheetahs leading 16-3, the first of the members started to leave to get the jump on the traffic.
Some great work by Atieli Pakalani had him kicking a loose ball and in a foot race to the line, he was stopped two metres short. The Tahs went on to win a scrum five metres out over the left side of the field, only for Kane Douglas to give up possession, and a series of errors to led to another threating kick and chase from Sarel Pretorius.
The Tahs moved to a kicking game in the last 15 minutes, still 13 points in arrears. It didn’t achieve much. The Cheetahs missed another drop goal attempt with 10 minutes left on the clock.
A late highlight of the second half was the Tahs stringing together three knock-ons into one smooth movement, all inside their own 22, leading to the Cheetahs crossing their line but not getting the ball down. The resulting scrum was repacked as the clock counted down. With four minutes left to play the game was back on, the Tahs needing 80 metres and 13 points… but the Cheetahs crossed for their second try, sealing a historic first win outside South Africa.