Connacht ensured that the Cheetahs finished the first half of the season on a low by winning 21-17 in Bloemfontein on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Cheetahs now go into a four-week break, which could see them restart their season in January at the bottom of Conference A. Connacht, meanwhile, have done their playoff hopes no harm by claiming nine log points on their tour to South Africa, with two wins out of two.
The game was a proper arm wrestle, with a try from Shaun Venter making the Irish team sweat in the closing stages of the match. But it was thanks to two penalties, coolly kicked by David Horwitz, that Connacht were able to claim the win.
It was the visitors who drew first blood when Tom Farrell made a break off a lineout and stepped his way past some poor tackle attempts to score.
The Cheetahs created great chances through wings Darren Adonis and Rhyno Smith, but Connacht extended their lead through a penalty from flyhalf Jack Carty. A strong maul then saw big lock Gavin Thornbury reach over to make it a 15-point game.
However, the home side hit back when Malcolm Jaer made a break on the halfway line and sprinted all the way, shrugging off the attempts from Niyi Adeolokun for their first score of the match. The Cheetahs formed their own maul just outside the Connacht tryline, with Joseph Dweba taking advantage to go over in the corner.
The Cheetahs were handed a blow just before the break as Benhard Janse van Rensburg, on as a replacement for Nico Lee, was forced off the field after being knocked out in an attempted tackle.
It was all Connacht from the restart, but some impressive last-ditch defending from the Cheetahs kept them out. The visitors were in control of the match and slowed it down, much to the hosts’ annoyance. David Horwitz, on as a replacement for Carty, kicked a penalty to stretch Connacht’s lead beyond a converted try.
Horwitz slotted a second penalty as the match went into the final quarter with the Cheetahs under pressure to get a score. Shaun Venter produced a moment of magic, making a great run on to an offload to dot down and set up a grandstand finish, with the Cheetahs needing four points in the final seven minutes of play.
Cheetahs – Tries: Malcolm Jaer, Joseph Dweba, Shaun Venter. Conversion: Tian Schoeman.
Connacht – Tries: Tom Farrell, Gavin Thornbury. Conversion: Jack Carty. Penalties: Carty, David Horwitz (2).
Cheetahs – 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Darren Adonis, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 Shaun Venter (c), 8 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Sinthu Manjezi, 3 Erich de Jager, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Marnus van der Merwe, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Aranos Coetzee, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Daniel Maartens, 21 Rudi Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Benhard Janse van Rensburg.
Connacht – 15 Tiernan O’Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Tom Farrell, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Paul Boyle, 5 Gavin Thornbury, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Subs: 16 Shane Delahunt, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 James Cannon, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 James Mitchell, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Cian Kelleher.
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images