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By Rebels Media Unit
The RaboDirect Rebels named three changes to their starting line-up from last week's thrashing at the hands of the Sharks as they headed to altitude to take on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Paul Alo-Emile, Jordy Reid and Richard Kingi were the inclusions into the XV following a turbulent week which also saw Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna sent back to Australia as a result of off-field indiscretions.
The Cheetahs, coming off a three-win tour of Australasia, were the first to get themselves onto the scoresheet in the 14th minute as Burton Francis took advantage of a penalty attempt from 28 metres after Lachie Mitchell was adjudged offside.
It was a slow start from both sides, with the greasy conditions stifling attacking intent and the visitors and hosts both throwing the ball with extreme caution.
Mitch Inman immediately impressed with his work rate and dedication in defence, while Alo-Emile's effort to get around the field and back up his teammates was also a highlight. The Rebels looked more comfortable with ball in hand than they had in Durban, but the Cheetahs explosive backline was also looking dangerous.
O'Connor was able to equalise the scores through his boot in the 23rd minute, and the Rebels were then able to pile pressure on the Cheetahs' try line as they built up a few phases. Ultimately they were not able to break through, and when the Cheetahs were pinged for offside, O'Connor elected to take the kick and give the visitors the lead from directly in front.
The lead was not to last however, and Hennie Daniller was able to score the first try of the game just four minutes before the interval following a turnover from the Rebels within their own 22 and some patient build-up play. Daniller ran a great line to take advantage as the Rebels were spread thin out wide, and Francis comfortably added the extras to give the Cheetahs a 10-6 lead at the break.
The frenetic pace continued as play resumed, and Laurie Weeks was forced from the field bloodied after just three minutes. Weeks had come on towards the end of the first half to replace Alo-Emile, but had little time to have an impact on the game before he had to be replaced; he was to return, after a concussion test, on the hour mark.
The Cheetahs were kicking well in play, with Francis' booming boot playing a crucial role in securing the field position that allowed a brilliant Robert Ebersohn offload to release speedster Raymond Rhule to score under the post for the second try of the match, with the conversion successful.
O'Connor reduced the deficit when he added his third penalty of the night, and Scott Higginbotham went close to setting up Jason Woodward for the Kiwi's first try for the Rebels; a better pass would have surely seen the winger over the white line. However, the Rebels' response to the Cheetahs second try was encouraging as they looked to force a way back into the game.
Coach Damien Hill rang the changes early in the second half, Scott Fuglistaller replacing the impressive Reid and Nic Stirzaker, Caderyn Neville, Rory Sidey and Jarrod Saffy all entering the fray as well.
But the Cheetahs had a third try in the 65th minute when Willie le Roux was released after excellent work from Adrian Strauss in chasing down a Van Zyl box kick. The conversion was unsuccessful, and the Cheetahs led 22-9.
The task was made tougher for the Rebels when Luke Jones was shown a yellow card for a late tackle on le Roux, and just one minute later the Cheetahs had their fourth try and a highly coveted bonus point, when Johann Sadie touched down unopposed following a lovely cut out ball from Francis, who proceeded to add the extras.
The floodgates were well and truly opened when substitute Rayno Benjamin dived over out wide and the TMO gave the all clear, and the Rebels were looking absolutely powerless to resist the continual onslaught.
While Neville was able to score his third Super 15 try to add some consolation points, the Cheetahs were too strong in the end and finished the match 34-16, victors to grab four successive victories for the first time in the franchise's history.
The Cheetahs possess one of the most electrifying backlines in the competition, and while it was scant consolation for the Rebels they were beaten by a much improved side who now can hold genuine finals aspirations.
For the Rebels, focus now turns to attempting to emulate the feats of last season and win in Perth next weekend against the Western Force as they complete their first ever three week tour, before returning to home comforts to host the Southern Kings in a fortnight's time.