As they fly over the Indian Ocean en route for their next destination - Perth - the Chiefs will ponder how it was that they pulled off this critical bonus point victory on the high veldt in Bloemfontein.
Because after just 20 minutes, they were down 24-0 to a rampant Cheetahs and facing embarrassment and humiliation against a side that did not play like it was about to be axed from Super Rugby, as the gossip would indicate.
Instead, the Cheetahs produced nigh on flawless rugby in the opening quarter, tackling accurately, not dropping a ball, and scoring via an effective lineout drive. Wings Raymond Rhule and Sergeal Peterson ran with gusto and penetration. The Chiefs, conversely, were passive in defence and lethargic on attack.
But, sparked again by the back three and centre Sam McNicol, the Chiefs clawed back the initiative. Toni Pulu crossed for a double before the end of the first half, while James Lowe was on the end of some good hands to score his fifth try in six games. Aaron Cruden began to pull the strings expertly, slotting five from seven goalkicks, and he set up Shaun Stevenson with a judicious chip over the top. By the time Hika Elliot pounced on a Cheetahs mistake in their in-goal with three minutes to run, the home side were well and truly demoralised.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
"The Cheetahs really gave us a hiding in that first 20. We didn't show up, but showed a bit of ticker to pull it back. We're really looking forward to going to Perth to play the Force," says Chiefs halfback and official man of the match Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who scorched in for a try from a sweet McNicol offload.
Chiefs captain Sam Cane knows their defence cannot be as passive again without more serious consequences, but he was accentuating the positive.
"We felt we dug ourselves a bit of a hole, but showed good composure and work-rate to get out of it," Cane says.
The upshot is that the Chiefs now move back into second place, on 29 points, in the tight New Zealand conference.
While the Chiefs face the Force next Saturday in Perth, the Cheetahs travel to Pretoria to meet the Bulls in the next round.
Chiefs 41 (Toni Pulu 2, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, James Lowe, Shaun Stevenson, Hika Elliot tries; Aaron Cruden 4 con, pen) Cheetahs 27 (Raymond Rhule, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Francois Venter tries; Niel Marais 3 con, 2 pen) HT: 24-14 Cheetahs