Ulster smashed by Ruan Pienaar's rampant Cheetahs in nine-try 63-26 PRO14 defeat
Cheetahs 63-26 Ulster
Ulster suffered a shocking 63-26 defeat at the hands of Ruan Pienaar's rampant Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening.
Rugby round up Newsletter
Dan McFarland's hapless visitors conceded as many as nine tries although, to their credit, touched down a last gasp fourth score of their own to at least take a bonus point from an otherwise miserable outing.
The day didn't start well, with Jack McGrath forced to pull out of the line-up to be replaced by Eric O'Sullivan.
But the real woes followed on the pitch as they were blown away by a masterclass from Ruan Pienaar and his Cheetahs' team-mates.
Winger Anthony Volmink got a hat-trick while equally-impressive full-back Rhyno Smith touched down twice. For Ulster, Sam Carter, James Hume, Dave Shanahan and Craig Gilroy all scored to take what had for much of the game looked an unlikely point.
By the break, any Ulster fans wondering how the South Africans had put 48 points on Glasgow a week earlier had more than got their answer.
The warning signs were there from the off as the hosts moved the ball across the pitch with pace, bearing their first fruits when quick passing fed Anthony Volmink to go over unopposed on nine minutes.
The winger's second was arguably the pick of the bunch, dashing from the 10m line, through a gap in the Ulster defence and easily shimmying his way past an exposed Matt Faddes.
Ulster hit back immediately, Matty Rea taking advantage of a lapse in defensive concentration to stride towards the line, showing good hands to assist Sam Carter just as he was hauled down.
The hope was to be shortlived. Fast forward two minutes and the Cheetahs' 14-point lead was restored, once again in thrilling fashion. This time it was full-back Rhyno Smith who bagged a deserved score, rounding John Cooney and cutting inside Faddes for another eye-catching score.
The Cheetahs' bonus point was secure two minutes before the break when Joseph Dweba touched down at the back of an unstoppable maul.
Needless to say, the classy Ruan Pienaar converted all four, three of those kicks from wide but each made to look supremely straightforward.
He was given another opportunity to convert, an of course he took it, just three minutes into the second half. That was after Volmink ran in his hat-trick score after a gift from Faddes, his pass easily intercepted.
When the Cheetahs touched down their sixth try on 46 minutes, Pienaar converting Smith's second score, it was 40-7 and fears for the safety of Ulster's record defeat, that 64-7 loss to Munster last year, were not unreasonable.
They were even less ridiculous four minutes later when Louis Fouche completed his side's seventh score, played in by Junior Pokomela for an easy run-in and 49 points on the board.
Thankfully, the visitors finally managed to stem the Cheetahs' flow and, to their credit, mounted some pressure of their own.
After James Hume finally picked a hole in the Cheetahs' back line to touch down his side's second try and Dweba was penalised for a cynical foul with a yellow card, replacement scrum-half Dave Shanahan got the third when he was first to react after the ball popped out of a maul.
All of a sudden, and with 16 minutes left, Ulster were chasing the bonus point against 14 men.
Still without Dweba, the Cheetahs pushed over for their eighth try of the day. Securing a line-out, it always looked inevitable and replacement Reinach Venter was the man to do the honours. Tian Schoeman once again converted, continuing his side's perfect record from the tee.
A penalty try followed before Ulster's Craig Gilroy sneaked through to snatch a last minute bonus point from an otherwise miserable evening in Bloemfontein.
Adding to their opening weekend win over Glasgow, Cheetahs will feel they're serious title contenders, while Ulster will demand a huge improvement in one week's time, when they take on Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth next Saturday (kick-off 3pm).
Here's the game as it happened:
Belfast Telegraph Digital