A 79th-minute penalty from Joe Pietersen helped the Cheetahs to a thrilling 25-24 win over the Blues in Bloemfontein on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
There was drama up to the very last minute. The Blues might've won it – and probably should've given their domination of possession and territory – but Ihaia West's drop goal after the hooter drifted wide and the Cheetahs held on to notch up their second win of the season.
Despite playing with a strong wind in the second half, the Cheetahs were forced to defend in their half for long periods, fending off wave after wave of Blues attacks. In the end they made 130 tackles to the Blues' 29, but crucially came out on top where it matters – the scoreboard.
Two of their three tries came against the run of play, as they once again showed what a threat they are on the counter-attack. Willie le Roux was in sumptuous form on the night, and had a hand in all three of the Cheetahs' tries.
The Blues, playing with the wind in the first half, led 14-12 at half-time courtesy of two converted tries, while the Cheetahs' response came through a brace by Cornal Hendricks. The Springbok wing, back in the starting lineup after appearing off the bench against the Sharks, showed great feet to beat three Blues defenders for his first, before being on hand to score after some more good work from Le Roux following a Pietersen cross kick.
The Blues might've had a third try on the stroke of half-time but Charlia Faumuina's pass to West was deemed forward and referee Rohan Hoffmann called time on a breathless first half.
A typically opportunistic try from Sarel Pretorius restored the Cheetahs' lead in the 55th minute, before the Cheetahs defence finally gave way for Jerome Kaino to score a try on his 100th Vodacom Super Rugby appearance. West's conversion gave the Blues a slim 21-19 lead with a quarter of an hour remaining.
The lead would change hands three further times in a frantic final 10 minutes, before West's drop goal attempt drifted agonisingly wide much to the delight of the Bloemfontein faithful.
Cheetahs – Tries: Cornal Hendricks (2), Sarel Pretorius. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2). Penalties: Joe Pietersen (2).
Blues – Tries: Luke Braid, Charlie Faumuina, Jerome Kaino. Conversions: Ihaia West (3). Penalty: Ihaia West.
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Jean Cook, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Minnie.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 BG Uys, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Tienie Burger, 20 Boom Prinsloo, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Johann Sadie.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Hamish Northcott, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Francis Saili.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images