Cheetahs down Force in Toyota Challenge Opener

The Western Force have fallen narrowly short against the Cheetahs 31-27 in the Toyota Challenge opener in Bloemfontein on Friday.

Dominance in the forward pack allowed the Cheetahs to weather the Western Force storm taking the first match of the Toyota Challenge in the sides’ first meeting in eight years.

Not having played each other since 2016, the young Force side showed class as they took on a side lined with Springbok legends, setting the stage for what is sure to be exciting South African tour.

It was a beautiful afternoon for running rugby at Toyota Stadium in Bloemfontein as the Force named a number of Fortescue Premier Grade products against the Currie Cup Champions.

The Cheetahs started on the front foot throwing the ball around early to test the Force’s defence as both sides adjusted to each other.

Despite the Force playing a smart style of defence the Cheetahs were able to get the jump and score the first points through Marnus Van Der Merwe who scored off the back of a rolling maul.

Springbok Ruan Pienaar, who has 88 caps, was given the kicking duties as he followed up the conversion to give the hosts a seven-point lead within the first 10 minutes.

It didn’t take long for Force to hit back first through Sam Spink who was just held up over the line after a barnstorming run, however it was quickly followed by Max Burey who slotted a penalty to give the visitors their first points.

After a back-and-forth passage of frantic rugby, it was the Cheetahs who went back to the rolling maul to get their second try through Gideon van der Merwe.

Before halftime the Force were able to break the hosts open to score their first try, using their pacey outside backs to get around the defence to send over Fortescue Academy product Ronan Leahy.

Chaos followed as both sides had multiple opportunities to score, eventually the Cheetahs were able to slow the ball down and use their field position to go back and score their third try using the maul through Gideon van der Merwe.

Not standing on ceremony, new signing Harry Potter scored arguably the best try of the game, connecting with Burey to receive a chip kick to put the Force right back in the match with the score sitting at 21-17.  

As the halftime bell sounded it was clear there was no separating both sides, as each team played a completely different brand of rugby as the Force found success on the outside while the Cheetahs dominated through their front three.

The second half started a lot more composed as the Force were able to secure possession and roll through a number of phases to slowly apply pressure.

The more structured style paid off as the visitors forced a number of mistakes from their opponents leading to another successful penalty kick from Burey which reduced the margin to one point.

After a long passage of play neither side could convert their opportunities into points until another maul saw Cheetahs' Marko Janse van Rensburg crash over to put their lead to eight points.

With only seven minutes remaining the Force’s club representatives stepped up as they came off the bench and scored a crucial try through Gio Leituala to set up a grandstand finish.

In the final five minutes the Cheetahs went back to what worked and challenged the Force to multiple mauls, however they were held up to keep the visitors in the game.

In the end, Pienaar put his final stamp on the game kicking a crucial penalty to set the final score at 31-27. 

Final score

Cheetahs 31

Tries: G. van der Merwe 2, M. van der Merwe, Janse Van Rensburg

Conversion: Pienaar

Penalties: Pienaar 

Force 27

Tries: Leahy, Potter, Leituala

Conversion: Burey 2

Penalties: Burey 2