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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Cheetahs implode in 12-try thriller

The Highlanders scored three tries in the final five minutes to crush the Toyota Cheetahs' hopes of a famous victory as they engineered one of the greatest comebacks in Super Rugby history to win their match 45-41 in Bloemfontein on Friday night.

The Kiwis scored the winning try in the 81st minute through All Black winger Waisake Naholo – his second of the game – as they did the near impossible to come back from 41-24 down to steal the game from under the Cheetahs noses in a 12-try thriller that gave the small crowd their money’s worth for the entertaining game.

The Cheetahs were their own version of Jeckle and Hyde – exceptionally beautiful to watch in full flight but then seconds later turning into the monsters who couldn’t tackle as they see-sawed their way through the match between the two opposites of the spectrum.

There were times when they made the Highlanders look ordinary, taking away their much vaunted attack and watching as the New Zealanders slipped tackles and conceded two yellow cards to reduce them at one stage to 13 men.

It even seemed that once the Highlanders got their noses in front at 24-22, that the Cheetahs upped a gear, scoring three quick tries of their own to stun the visitors and looked set to close out the game in style.

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But as the Cheetahs tired, they gave away a yellow card by Uzair Cassiem, and the Highlanders stepped up a level, carving open the defence with ease to storm to victory.

And while the Cheetahs were much better than the 43 missed tackles against the Crusaders, they still missed no less than 33 on the night, with more than a handful coming in the last five minutes as they imploded.

While it was sad that there had to be a loser in a game that was this entertaining, the Cheetahs will take solace out of the performances of some of their players, with the likes of Henco Venter, Tian Meyer, William Small-Smith and Ox Nche playing exceptional roles on both attack and defence.

Venter was everywhere in the loose and on defence was prominent, while Fred Zeilinga stood out for his tackling, making 12 tackles and claiming the most in the side.

Still, it will be of little comfort to a Cheetahs side that often promises so much, and has led into the last 10 minutes for no less than seven games this season, only to lose it at the death.

There were moments of magic from both sides, not least the opening try where Venter caught the Highlanders napping on the blindside, broke downfield, before sending to Sergeal Petersen, who in turn sent Meyer away for the opening try to celebrate his 50th Super Rugby cap.

Several times the Highlanders threatened, but they only broke through in the 23rd minute when Marty Banks found Clayton Blommetjies ineffectual tackle to be so easy to move past that he scored almost untouched.

Matt Faddes received a harsh yellow card as the assistant ref pointed out a tackle without arms, and then decided not to go for the replay, which ironically showed that while the tackle was late, there were arms used in it.

With the visitors down to 14, it wasn’t long before the Cheetahs found enough space on the outside to put Peterson in at the corner and extend their lead before the halftime break.

Early in the second half, having not been on the field for a minute, Siate Tokolahi tipped Venter off the ball and was rewarded with a yellow for his efforts, leaving his team with 13 men.

It was the cue for the Cheetahs to hit home hard, and they did, with Torsten van Jaarsveld starting the celebrations with a rolling maul try.

The Highlanders hit back with an easy try as Faddes put Rob Thompson over and two minutes later they took the lead when Naholo scored a try against a stretched defence.

But the Cheetahs hit back hard, first through Oupa Mohoje and then through Meyer’s second score of the night.

The try of the evening came when Uzair Cassiem broke and did a one-two with Petersen, leaving the Highlanders at sixes and sevens before Petersen put Nche away for the try that will be remembered for a long time.

Cassiem was sent to the bin in the 73rd minute, but it still seemed the Cheetahs were too far ahead to be hauled in.

But the Highlanders didn’t agree, with Faddes, Tevita Lee and finally Naholo scoring within five minutes to stun the home crowd and steal away the victory, leaving the Cheetahs in tatters as they imploded.


Toyota Cheetahs – tries: Tian Meyer (2), Sergeal Petersen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Oupa Mohoje, Ox Nche. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4). Penalty: Zeilinga

Highlanders – tries: Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Waisake Naholo (2), Matt Faddes, Tevita Lee. Conversions: Banks (6). Penalty: Banks.


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