Connacht claimed a third straight PRO14 win after beating the Cheetahs 24-22 in dramatic fashion in Galway on Saturday.
The Cheetahs had led 22-14 and were playing confidently heading into the last 10 minutes. But in a dramatic twist, they conceded a red card and two tries – including one well into stoppage time – to lose the match.
The result brings to an end the Cheetahs’ three-game winning start to the campaign and subjects the team’s new coach Hawies Fourie to a defeat in his maiden game in charge.
The Irish club, who had won their previous two matches in the competition, led their South African counterparts 14-5 at the break. Niyi Adeolokun opened the scoring with a converted try for Connacht, and while Joseph Dweba bagged an unconverted effort to get the visitors on the scoreboard, Kieran Marmion crossed the line to extend the hosts’ lead.
The Cheetahs, brilliantly marshalled by captain Ruan Pienaar, rallied in the second half to take the lead for the first time in the game. The visitors scored 17 unanswered points via tries from Rhyno Smith and Clayton Blommetjies and Pienaar contributed seven points off the kicking tee.
With the Cheetahs looking in firm control, a moment of madness from Dries Swanepoel gave Connacht a lifeline. Charging into a ruck, the centre executed a reckless and dangerous, not to mention unnecessary, clearout and paid the price with a straight red card.
Replacement Tom Farrell dotted down for Connacht to make it a two-point game and set up a grand finale in the last five minutes. The Cheetahs tried to run down the clock, but conceded a couple of penalties to play five metres away from their own tryline.
Connacht refused to take the easy three points on offer and settle for a draw, and instead opted for an attacking scrum. After a few resets, they shifted the ball out to the backs and Farrell pierced the defence to score his second, and more importantly, the match-winning try.
Connacht – Tries: Niyi Adeolokun, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell (2). Conversions: Conor Fitzgerald (2).
Cheetahs – Tries: Joseph Dweba, Rhyno Smith, Clayton Blommetjies. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (2). Penalty: Pienaar.
Connacht – 15 Stephen Fitzgerald, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Peter Robb, 11 John Porch, 10 Conor Fitzgerald, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Paul Boyle, 7 Jarrad Butler (c), 6 Eoghan Masterson, 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Gavin Thornbury, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Subs: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Matthew Burke, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Ultan Dillane, 20 Cillian Gallagher, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Tom Farrell, 23 Darragh Leader.
Cheetahs – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Ruan Pienaar (c), 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Walt Steenkamp, 4 Sintu Majezi, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Wilmar Arnoldi, 17 Boan Venter, 18 Luan de Bruin, 18 JP du Preez, 19 Sias Koen, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 George Whitehead, 22 William Small-Smith.
Photo: PRO14 Rugby