Highlanders Fightback Sinks Cheetahs
The Highlanders overturned a 21-point deficit to snatch a last-minute 36-33 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening.
Staring down the barrel at 30-9 down with 25 minutes to play after the Cheetahs had dominated territory and possession, the Highlanders threw caution to the wind and cut the Cheetahs’ defence to shreds.
Still, at 33-all, the Cheetahs strung together 15 phases and forced what in all likelihood looked like a match-winning penalty inside the Highlanders’ 22.
Replacement flyhalf Sias Ebersohn, however, missed the regulation penalty and a minute later, Chris Noakes slotted a long-range three-pointer to complete one of the comebacks of the season.
To add to the Cheetahs’ woes, 19-year-old flyhalf sensational Johan Goosen was stretched off in the 49th-minute after he had scored a 60-metre solo try and fallen awkwardly on his shoulder.
Goosen had scooped up a wayward ball from Nasi Manu and bolted down the right-hand touchline, stepping Hosea Gear and beating fullback Ben Smith for pace to dot down in the corner.
Goosen was once again impressive in the number 10 jersey, consistently crossing the gain line with ball in hand and kicking well in for 18-point haul before injury struck.
The Cheetahs got off to a brilliant start and nearly scored their opening try in their first foray into the Highlanders’ 22. Hennie Daniller joined the line at pace and sliced through a half gap but was stopped inches short.
The visitors, however, conceded a penalty at the breakdown and Goosen got the hosts on the board after just three minutes.
Mike Delany soon levelled the scores but the Cheetahs played with plenty of vigour and regained the lead when Coenie Oosthuizen dived over from a metre out, with Goosen kicking the extras to continue the hosts’ solid start.
The flyhalves exchanged penalties as both sides were guilty of infringements before Andrew Hore was yellow-carded for killing the ball on the ground.
Goosen lined up for another shot at goal and made no mistake to put the Cheetahs up by ten after 27 minutes.
Five minutes later, English import James Haskell received his marching orders for striking Justin Downey in the face.
With a two-man advantage, the Cheetahs turned down the shot at goal and Andries Ferreira powered over for his first try in Super Rugby.
Goosen’s conversion stretched the lead to 17, which Delany reduced to 14 on the stroke of half time with a long-range penalty.
The men from Bloemfontein were full value for their 23-9 lead as they had dominated territory and enjoyed 60 percent of the possession.
The visitors’ indiscipline and poor execution were at the heart of their struggles, while four handling errors certainly didn’t help their cause.
The Cheetahs continued the second half where they had left off with Heinrich Brussow driven over the try line.
The Springbok flanker, however, was held up by a desperate Highlanders side and an early engagement by the Cheetahs at the resulting five-metre scrum offered the visitors a much-needed reprieve.
Goosen then scored the Cheetahs’ third and Ebersohn slotted the touchline conversion to take the score to 30-9.
Ebersohn followed up the conversion with a brave, try-saving tackle on a flying Hosea Gear, before the Highlanders finally breached the Cheetahs’ line when Smith sliced threw and found Noakes on his inside, who dotted down under the uprights and converted his own try.
The seven-pointer did wonders for the Highlanders’ confidence and they looked a different side as the match entered its final quarter.
Suddenly, the Highlanders played with width and two tries by Super Rugby centurion Jimmy Cowan - converted by Noakes - in the space of five minutes tied the scores at 30-all and silenced the Bloemfontein crowd.
Following another exchange of penalties, the New Zealanders were guilty of becoming too loose in the final five minutes and conceded a penalty inside their 22, which Ebersohn shockingly pulled to the right.
The Highlanders was then awarded a penalty from 40 metres out and Noakes’ kick sailed just over the crossbar to break Cheetahs’ hearts.
SARugby.com Man of the Match: Super substitutes Chris Noakes and Jimmy Cowan jointly contributed 27 points, yet it was Ben Smith who sparked the comeback with his lethal counter-attacking from fullback.
Cheetahs - Tries: Coenie Oosthuizen, Andries Ferreira, Johan Goosen. Conversions: Goosen (2), Sias Ebersohn. Penalties: Goosen (3), Ebersohn.
Highlanders - Tries: Chris Noakes, Jimmy Cowan (2). Conversions: Noakes (3). Penalties: Mike Delany (3), Noakes (2).