The Cheetahs fought back from 31-13 down to beat the Sunwolves 32-31 in Singapore on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The visitors were staring down the barrel early in the second half, but the introduction of their first-choice front row, who had started on the bench, strengthened a scrum that had struggled at times in the first half. They and the other substitutes also brought new energy to the side and helped turn things around.
Having conceded four tries during an opening 40 minutes that saw them miss 12 tackles and concede as many turnovers, the Cheetahs were able to fight their way back to score three tries in the second half to secure a comeback win.
The Sunwolves will know they blew a golden opportunity to claim their first ever Super Rugby win.
The Japanese franchise made a perfect start to the match when they attacked from a scrum, down the left side of the field, before sending the ball out to the right. Midfielder Yu Tamura's one-handed offload in the tackle found fullback Riaan Viljoen, who quickly passed it to Yamada. The right winger stepped past Cheetahs hooker Jacques du Toit, cut back inside and dived over in the corner, with Samoan flyhalf Tusi Pisi slotting the touchline conversion.
Niel Marais reduced the deficit to one with two penalty goals, before Yamada scored his second try in the same corner as the first. Once again, Pisi was on target to make it 14-6.
The Cheetahs hit back 10 minutes later when Sergeal Petersen's perfectly-weighted chip kick over the defence was booted ahead by Marais, who won the race to the in-goal area to score a converted try. They should have scored again soon after, but Shaun Venter didn't pass inside to Petersen, who had a clean run-in to the line, instead knocking on in the tackle.
The Sunwolves then struck two big blows to take a 28-13 lead into the break. First, Pisi's clever kick was collected by Tamura, whose inside pass (which looked forward) put Tamura away for his hat-trick try under the sticks. Then good interplay between forwards and backs saw captain Shota Horie grab his side's fourth try.
That prompted Cheetahs coach Franco Smith to make several substitutions at the break, with Torsten van Jaarsveld and Charles Marais joining Maks van Dyk (who had come on late in the first half) in the front row, Boom Prinsloo replacing Paul Schoeman at openside flank and Fred Zeilinga coming on for Sias Ebersohn at fullback.
Pisi extended the Sunwolves' lead to 18 with an early second-half penalty, but then came the Cheetahs' comeback.
Uzair Cassiem burst through a hole next to the ruck to score and Marais then crossed for his second to make it 31-27 after 54 minutes.
Both Pisi and Tamura were unsuccessful with penalty goal attempts, while the Cheetahs twice turn down a shot at goal to push for a try.
On the second occasion, the Sunwolves collapsed the lineout driving maul and No 8 Edward Quirk was sent to the sin bin. Once again the Cheetahs kicked for the corner, and this time the hosts could not stop the lineout drive as Prinsloo went over.
Marais missed the conversion but the visitors were ahead for the first time in the game, and were able to hang on for the win.
Sunwolves – Tries: Yu Tamura (3), Shota Horie. Conversions: Tusi Pisi (4). Penalty: Pisi.
Cheetahs – Tries: Niel Marais (2), Uzair Cassiem, Boom Prinsloo. Conversions: Niel Marais (3). Penalties: Marais (2).
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Harumichi Tatekawa, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Timothy Vond, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Shota Horie (c), 1 Keith Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Mifiposeti Paea.
Cheetahs – 15 Sias Ebersohn, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Hilton Lobberts, 21 Boom Prinsloo, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Fred Zeilinga.
Photo: Lionel Ng/Getty Images