Cheetahs flyhalf Joe Pietersen missed a last-minute penalty to hand the Reds a narrow 18-17 victory in Bloemfontein, writes RYAN VREDE.
The decision to award the penalty was contentious to start with, James Horwill appearing to legitimately win the ball at the breakdown. However, Pietersen, usually very reliable from the kicking tee, managed only to strike the post with 30 seconds to play. The Reds never relinquished the ball again and banked a rare win on the road. Defeat leaves the Cheetahs down in 12th place, with their play-off chances all but over.
On the balance of play the tourists probably deserved the win. They bossed possession and territory and created the better scoring opportunities. The Cheetahs will lament the chances they let slip, but ultimately they were outplayed by a better unit.
The first half was a dour affair, with elementary errors a feature of the play. The Cheetahs went ahead early through a Pietersen penalty but defended for large passages of play thereafter.
The Cheetahs' ambition was blunted by the loss of openside flanker Heinrich Brüssow as well as fullback Coenie van Wyk, both forced to depart through injury, but it didn't appear to hamper their defensive effort. That said, the Reds' attacking predictability aided their hosts' cause. They seldom showed an appreciation for a pragmatic, multi-phase approach, preferring an expansive route.
The Cheetahs were well organised defensively and weren't found wanting in the accuracy and physicality stakes when required to exhibit those qualities. Their gainline and breakdown challenge stifled the Reds' attack to the point where they were rendered virtually impotent.
Having absorbed considerable pressure, the Cheetahs extended their lead, albeit fortuitously, when Rayno Benjamin was sent clear after a charged-down kick bounced favourably in the buildup. James O'Connor made it a seven-point match with a penalty just before half-time, then levelled with a conversion after the restart following some excellent play to set up the score.
The Reds struck soon thereafter once more, O'Connor crafting the score through an excellent offload. The winger missed the conversion, but his side had taken a deserved lead given their complete dominance in the preceding 40 minutes.
The Reds' surge seem to be the catalyst that was needed to shake the Cheetahs from their slumber. Boom Prinsloo touched down following a powerful rolling maul. Pietersen added the extras to put his side into a 17-15 lead.
The Reds found their groove again as the game drew to a close, and when Nick Frisby's drop goal attempt landed with six minutes to play, the Cheetahs were forced to improve their attack – poor throughout the second half – in search of a victory.
They gave it a good crack and got the opportunity to steal the points with Pietersen's penalty. But the pivot folded under the pressure to hand the win to the Reds.
Cheetahs – Tries: Rayno Benjamin, Boom Prinsloo. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2). Penalty: Pietersen.
Reds – Tries: Adam Korczuk, Samu Kerevi. Conversion: James O'Connor. Penalty: O'Connor. Drop goal: Nick Frisby.
Cheetahs – 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 BG Uys.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Danie Minnie, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Tienie Burger, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Rayno Benjamin.
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Nick Frisby, 9 Will Genia, 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Curtis Browning, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Anthony Fainga’a, 22 Campbell Magnay, 23 Chris Kuridrani.
Photo: Charle Lombard/Gallo Images