As impressive as the Bulls were in dispatching Western Province in their opening game last weekend, so poor were they on Saturday as they made way too many stupid mistakes, extending from weak defence to losing their own lineout ball and way too many knock-ons and turnovers.
The Cheetahs are now top of the log after their second successive bonus point win and they started the match with the intensity and tempo of a team that has silverware as their target.
They were on the board with their first try inside three minutes as the Blue Bulls failed to control the kickoff and were immediately under pressure. They tried to run the ball out from behind their own line but eventually flyhalf Tian Schoeman kicked but his clearance only reached the 22m line.
Lock Carl Wegner’s strong run after the lineout was stopped just short of the line and centre Francois Venter then stepped inside his markers to score the opening try.
Free State flyhalf Fred Zeilinga converted, but Schoeman cut the lead to 3-7 with a penalty in the sixth minute.
But just a minute later, the Bulls again made poor decisions in trying to exit from the kickoff, wing Jamba Ulengo conceding another lineout on their own 22 as he dummied to pass inside, then tried to go on his own but was forced to kick from close to the touchline as livewire opposite number Raymond Rhule put him under pressure.
From the lineout, loose forward Paul Schoeman charged over the advantage line and Rhule and Clayton Blommetjies then brushed aside the Bulls defence, the wing going on a dart through the defence and then offloading superbly for the fullback to race clear.
Busy Bulls flank Ruan Steenkamp was then harshly denied a try, but the visitors were given a penalty, which resulted in loose forward Jannes Kirsten scoring from close range, Schoeman converting to bring them back into the game at 10-14 down.
A vital moment in the game came in the 28th minute when the Bulls were hard on attack in the Cheetahs 22 but the ball was knocked on. The home side quickly shipped the ball wide, where centre William Small-Smith made ground in the outside channel, before passing inside to prop Ox Nche, who motored over from just inside the Bulls half for an inspirational try.
Zeilinga converted and then added a long-range penalty on the hooter so the Cheetahs were 24-10 up going into the second half.
The Bulls kept the ball in the forwards in the early stages of the second half, forcing a couple of penalties, Schoeman missing one but kicking the other (13-24).
But the Cheetahs picked up the tempo once again, forwards and backs handling and supporting well before flank Uzair Cassiem, who had been prominent in pressurising the Bulls lineout, picked up the ball at a ruck and dived over to score on the blindside.
Five minutes later, the game was over for the Bulls as Free State centres Venter and Small-Smith, who had been up quickly in defence the whole game, combined well on attack for Small-Smith to score, Zeilinga’s conversion stretching the lead to 36-13 on the hour.
Going into the last 10 minutes, the Bulls did manage to hang on to the ball for multiple phases, Steenkamp forcing his way over for a try, but three minutes later, wing Ryno Benjamin shimmied down the left touchline to complete a convincing victory for the Cheetahs.
They managed to stop the Blue Bulls from getting their game going, but played with great exuberance themselves to reward the healthy crowd that came out to watch them.
Toyota Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Francois Venter, Clayton Blommetjies, Ox Nche, Uzair Cassiem, William Small-Smith, Ryno Benjamin. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4), Niel Marais.Penalty: Zeilinga.
Vodacom Blue Bulls – Tries: Jannes Kirsten, Ruan Steenkamp. Conversions: Tian Schoeman, Joshua Stander. Penalties: Schoeman (2).