BLOEMFONTEIN – The Cheetahs wasted a glorious opportunity to score their first victory in this season’s PRO14 by drawing 39-39 against Ulster on Friday night.
The hosts began the match well, defying their underdog tag.
A great run by centre Nico Lee paved the way for the Cheetahs to take the early lead as he set up Gerhardus Olivier to score, with flyhalf Tiaan Schoeman succeeding with the conversion.
The Irish team hit back almost immediately when centre Henry Speight broke through the Cheetahs defence to set up scrumhalf David Shanahan for his first try.
The Cheetahs, who lost their first three matches on the road, put the visitors under great pressure.
The home side had territorial advantage and also enjoyed more possession. Too many mistakes, however, cost Franco Smith’s side dearly.
The Cheetahs were eventually rewarded when Schoeman slotted over a penalty to take them back into a 10-7 lead.
Ulster went into the lead for the first time in the 21st minute when Stuart McCloskey broke the Cheetahs defensive line and sent the hard-working Shanahan over for his second try, and Billy Burns converted for a 14-10 advantage.
The home side were intent on getting maximum points, and three minutes before halftime, left wing Sibahle Maxwane set off on a mazy run that left the Ulster defence floundering.
He eventuallly found right wing William Small-Smith, who crossed over for the try.
The visitors were first to score in the second half, when referee Ben Whitehouse penalised the Cheetahs for over-zealous play deep into their own half.
Burns slotted the penalty to bring the scores level at 17-17.
The Cheetahs had a chance to retake the lead in the 50th minute when they were gifted two penalties in less than a minute, but they opted to kick for the line.
They finally got their reward when Ulster lock Alan O’Connor was yellow-carded.
The Cheetahs again opted for the lineout and used the driving maul, with hooker Joseph Dweba scoring.
The Cheetahs used the driving maul to score another try through Jacques du Toit, and Schoeman succeeded with the kick to stretch as Cheetahs’ lead to 29-20.
Replacement Jonny Stewart then crossed the Cheetahs line to put the pressure back on the home side, and Ulster scored a penalty try as Cheetahs replacement Charles Marais was sent to the cooler.
The Cheetahs hit back with a brilliant try by Maxwane after a good chip-kick by fullback Malcolm Jaer.
Replacement flyhalf Louis Fouche succeeded with the kick, and he also slotted home a long-distance penalty to take the score to 39-32.
Ulster scored in the 80th minute when Speight drove over for a try, and Burns succeeded with the crucial conversion to level the scores at 39-39.
It's @Sibahle_maxwane with the man of the match award for @CheetahsRugby after a brilliant display 👏— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) September 21, 2018
He's presented with the award by Harold Verster on behalf of Guinness 🎖#GUINNESSPRO14 #CHEvULS pic.twitter.com/bkHYIJNHHc
Cheetahs 39 – Tries: Gerhardus Olivier, William Small-Smith, Joseph Dweba, Jacques du Toit, Sibahle Maxwane. Conversions: Tiaan Schoeman (3), Louis Fouche. Penalties: Schoeman (1), Fouche (1).
Ulster 39 – Tries: David Shanahan (2), Henry Speight, Jonny Stewart, Penalty Try, Conversions: Billy Burns (3), Penalties: Burns (2).
African News Agency (ANA)