The Highlanders scored three converted tries in the last five minutes to snatch a thrilling and almost unbelievable win from the Cheetahs in a Super Rugby match played in Bloemfontein on Friday night.
With five minutes remaining the home team led 41-24 and looked to be well on their way to registering just their third win of the competition. They have played some brilliant rugby with several players, like Ox Nche, Tian Meyer, Raymond Rhule and William Small-Smith turning in excellent performances.
Having changed sides 15-10 up and seemingly in control of the match, and with the Highlanders having lost two men to the sin-bin for ill-discipline, Franco Smith’s men were coasting to victory. But the Highlanders, champions two years ago, had other ideas.
They scored converted tries through Tevita Li, Matt Faddes and a second by Waisake Naholo in the final five minutes to steal the win. It left the Cheetahs players shattered on the field after they had produced arguably their best performance of the season.
Smith had earlier in the week asked his players to produce an 80-minute performance after earlier showing good signs against the likes of the Chiefs and Crusaders to lose in the latter stages of the match, but again they failed to go to the very end. And how it cost them.
After a rather forgettable first half where the Cheetahs scored tries by Meyer and Petersen to the one by Marty Banks for the Highlanders, the second 40 minutes burst into life from the off.
Torsten van Jaarsveld went over in the 45th minute to help his side into a deserved 22-10 lead, but before they could even celebrate their strong position, they gave it up by conceding tries to Rob Thompson and Naholo.
The ding-dong battle then swung the way of the Cheetahs again after tries by Oupa Mohoje, a second by Meyer and a stunner by Nche, but the match was far from over.
Uzair Cassiem, who’d come on as a late replacement and who featured so prominently in Nche’s try, was yellow-carded in the 73rd minute, and then the Highlanders struck.
When the dust had settled, they’d scored three excellent tries, with Banks playing a major part in them and throughout the match.
The Highlanders No 10 isn’t flash and he’s certainly no Beauden Barrett (or Lima Sopoaga, whom he has replaced), but he does everything required of him and more. He was sensational in every aspect of his play on Friday night and had a big hand in the victory.
For the Cheetahs, it’s back to the proverbial drawing board as they seek to find the answer of playing for the full 80 minutes.
Cheetahs 41 – Tries: Tian Meyer (2), Sergeal Petersen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Oupa Mohoje, Ox Nche. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4). Penalty: Zeilinga (1).
Highlanders 45 – Tries: Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Waisake Naholo (2), Tevita Li, Matt Faddes. Conversions: Banks (6). Penalty: Banks.