Cheetahs choke in Bloem

The Highlanders scored three tries in the final five minutes to claim a 45-41 win against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.

How did the Cheetahs let this one slip? While they've made a habit of blowing significant leads this season, no one would have expected them to concede three converted tries in the dying moments of the game.

Call it what it is: a choke. The Cheetahs led 15-10 at half-time, and 41-24 on the hour. They had every opportunity to close this game out and secure a rare win against New Zealand opposition.

The Highlanders should be elated with the second-half performance, as well as the result. After putting in a lacklustre display at the collisions and breakdowns in the first stanza, they still managed to come out on top.

The visitors weren't helped by the officials. Fullback Matt Faddes received a yellow card for what appeared to be an innocuous tackle in the 35th minute. The Highlanders' second sanction was more clear-cut, though, as Siate Tokolahi was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Henco Venter.

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The Cheetahs capitalised on the two-man advantage, scoring through Torsten Jaarsveld. Fred Zeilinga's conversion stretched the hosts' lead to 22-10.

The Highlanders hit back with tries by Rob Thompson and Waisake Naholo. At that point, it seemed as if the Cheetahs defence was tiring, and another second-half implosion looked to be on the cards.

The Cheetahs maintained their effort at the gainline, and found some space in the wider channels. Oupa Mohoje finished a great attacking movement in the left-hand corner, while Tian Meyer scored his second try of the evening when he chased a chip kick by Raymond Rhule.

Then Uzair Cassiem made a searing break to free up Sergeal Petersen. When Ox Nche scored and Zeilinga added the extras, the Cheetahs appeared to have the result, as well as the bonus point secured.

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But the Highlanders never stopped coming. Cassiem was yellow-carded in the 72nd minute, and this allowed the Highlanders to finish the game with a one-man advantage. They scored three tries in the dying moments, with Naholo claiming the winning score to complete a brace.

Cheetahs – Tries: Tian Meyer (2), Sergeal Petersen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Raymond Rhule, Ox Nche. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4). Penalty: Zeilinga.
Highlanders –  Tries: Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Waisake Naholo (2), Tevita Li, Matt Faddes. Conversions: Banks (6). Penalty: Banks.

Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Elandre Huggett,17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Niel Marais.

Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (c), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Richard Buckman

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli