Naholo breaks Cheetahs' hearts
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: Waisake Naholo's last-minute try made sure the Highlanders record a 45-41 win over the Cheetahs in a 12-try thriller in Bloemfontein on Friday.
Highlanders struggled in the first quarter of the match, they conceded an early try and failed to get momentum despite spending most of the time in the opposition's 22.
On the other hand, the Cheetahs were a breath of fresh air. The hosts dominated the breakdowns and executed every scoring opportunity to take a 15-10 lead at the break.
The match took a miraculous turn in the last quarter.
Trailing by 17 points in the 76th minute, the visitors scored three tries to stretch a winning streak to six matches, a feat they last achieved in 2005.
It was the seventh consecutive loss for the Cheetahs after winning two of their first three matches this season.
Replacement back Tevita Li set the stunning comeback in motion by crossing the tryline unopposed and flyhalf Marty Banks converted at a chilly Free State Stadium.
Fullback Matt Faddes burst clear of the Cheetahs defence to dot down a minute later and Banks converted again to trim the deficit to three points.
Huge wing Naholo completed the remarkable turnaround by scoring in the final minute and Banks added the extra points once again.
Cheetahs are no strangers to collapses having lost 27-41 at home to another New Zealand outfit, Chiefs, last month after building a 24-point advantage.
Highlanders No.8 Luke Whitelock hailed the never-say-die spirit of his team at the start of a two-match South Africa tour.
"We left it all out there on the pitch," he said. "Winning despite having two players yellow carded was a fantastic achievement.
"Our attitude was superb in the closing minutes - we had nothing to lose when 17 points behind and went for broke."
Highlanders briefly had only 13 players on the field early in the second half as the sin-binning of Faddes and substitute prop Siate Tokolahi overlapped.
Yellow cards have been a common Super Rugby sight this season and Cheetahs ended the game a man short after replacement loose forward Uzair Cassiem was sin-binned.
Cheetahs skipper and centre Francois Venter was surprisingly positive after seeing his team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
"We matched Highlanders man for man in quality only to throw the game away at the death. This defeat is a particularly bitter pill to swallow"
Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule called the defeat "heart-breaking"
"This has been the story of our season - losing matches we should have won. We are fighters, though, and will never give up trying,"
Winning kept Highlanders fifth in the Australasian log - the last qualifying place for the quarterfinals - 10 points ahead of rivals the Blues.
Cheetahs picked up a losing bonus point but remain third in the Africa One standings, 15 points adrift of pace-setters the Stormers.
Man of the Match:: The Highlanders ended the match the stronger side and one man who truly stood out was their flyhalf, Marty Banks. However, throughout the match, the back three of the Cheetahs - Clayton Blommetjies, Sergeal Petersen and Raymond Rhule- again put in a solid performance and sparked up Bloemfontein with scintillating breaks from their own 22. Despite a heartbreaking defeat, our nod goes to Cheetahs hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld for his strong carries and work-rate to get front foot ball for his side.
Tries: Meyer 2, Petersen, Van Jaarsveld, Mahojo, Meyer
Cons: Zeilinga 4
Tries: Banks, Thompson, Naholo 2, Li, Faddes
Cons: Banks 6
Yellow cards: Matt Faddes (Highlanders, 34 - Late and a stiff-arm tackle, Siate Tokolahi (Highlanders, 41 - Tip tackle), Uzair Cassiem (Cheetahs, 72 - High tackle)
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Elandré 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 (captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Tevita Li.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)