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Cheetahs hurt by Ulster defeat but vow to learn their lessons ahead of Thomond trip

The South African side produced some scintillating rugby on their Pro14 debut, but indiscipline and defensive issues cost them dearly.

The Cheetahs now turn their attention to Munster and a trip to Limerick next week.
The Cheetahs now turn their attention to Munster and a trip to Limerick next week.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from Kingspan Stadium 

NOT QUITE A baptism of fire on their first foray in northern hemisphere rugby, but a steep learning curve which the Cheetahs hope will put them in better stead moving forward on this Pro14 adventure.

For the opening 25 minutes of last night’s pulsating game in Belfast, the South African tourists thrilled a capacity crowd with a free-flowing and all-action style of rugby. Pace, power and penetration. It was an absolute joy to watch.

Clayton Blommetjies and Makazole Mapimpi both scored early tries, only for Ulster to respond with a performance brimming with ambition, intent and a clinical edge.

The loss of Rosko Specman and out-half Blommetjies, as well as the sin binning of Henco Venter, ultimately swung the helter-skelter game in the hosts’ favour and the Cheetahs had no answer as they leaked six tries.

For all their attacking vibrancy, Rory Duncan’s side were punished defensively as they struggled to live with Ulster’s deep running game and dominant display from the forwards, including man-of-the-match Jean Deysel and his South African compatriot Marcel Coetzee.

Afterwards, the head coach admitted his side gave Ulster far too much space and momentum when they had ball in hand and much of their focus this week will be on shoring up the rearguard ahead of a trip to Thomond Park to face Munster next Saturday.

“It was an experience getting the first game out of the way,” Duncan said. “The end result was not what we wanted, but it’s great to be part of this competition now.

Peter Nelson celebrates his try with Tommy Bowe and Darren Cave Peter Nelson scored Ulster's sixth and final try last night. Source: Darren Kidd/INPHO

“We anticipated a tough game, we watched Ulster’s games from last season and we had a pretty good idea that they’d play relatively direct, and looking at their team we knew they’d strike direct from the back.

“I thought Ulster played really well tonight, they did very well. Their ball retention was really good and their strike runners off nine did a great job giving them great momentum. Hats off to them, I think they had a really good game.”

The Cheetahs’ flying start forced Ulster’s hand and Les Kiss’ side matched fire with fire, as both teams took every opportunity to run from deep which made for an entertaining contest on a historic night.

Captain Niell Jordaan said that the northern province produced ‘a world class performance’ on the opening night and the Cheetahs will need to take the lessons in defeat into next week and the season ahead.

“Monday we’ll try and sort out what we did wrong tonight and try and learn a few lessons from Ulster,” the flanker said. “They played a world class standard tonight and set the standard for the rugby that’s going to be played in this competition. We’ll try and take a few lessons from them and try and apply it to our squad and set-up.

“Then secondly try and sort out a few things on our side, it’s going to be a hard one on Monday. That’s rugby. Games like this you have to take on the chin and learn lessons. You need to apply the solution and hopefully that’ll be next week against Munster.

“I just think we need to apply ourselves better. One thing Ulster did very well was keep the ball and it was something we wanted to do. Maybe if we could have done that better and just played our gameplan things could have gone differently but you can’t take anything away from Ulster, they had a great game and we’re all going to have to learn.

“We’re going to have to adapt when necessary. It was a tough one but we rather start with a tough game than an easy one and learn the early lessons.”

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