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Killer blow as Cheetahs edge Connacht at the death with last minute kick

A Niel Marais penalty in the last minute denied Connacht what looked set to be a historic victory in South Africa on Saturday.

Uzair Cassiem scores a try for the Cheetahs.
Uzair Cassiem scores a try for the Cheetahs.
Image: Photosport/Frikkie Kapp/INPHO

Toyota Cheetahs 26

Connacht 25

Morgan Piek reports from Bloemfontein.

THE TOYOTA CHEETAHS flyhalf Niel Marais landed a last minute penalty on Saturday evening to cruelly deny Connacht a win in Bloemfontein during round 17 of the Guinness Pro14 on Saturday.

The Cheetahs edged the visitors 26-25 in a game that — as the score suggests — could have gone either, but ultimately proved a case of accepting an ugly victory rather than a good defeat for the hosts.

A brace of tries by winger Matt Healy was not enough to see Connacht the accolade of becoming just the second team in the history of the competition to upset the Cheetahs on home soil, which has become somewhat of a fortress.

Springbok flanker Uzair Cassiem opened the scoring in the fourth minute when he collected the ball at the breakdown and broke clean through five metres from the lead, with Marais slotting the conversion.

Minutes later he was on the mark again with the first of four penalties for the hosts to race into a 10-0 lead.

Gavin Thornbury and Jarrad Butler with Charles Marais Gavin Thornbury and Jarrad Butler with Charles Marais of the Cheetahs. Source: Photosport/Frikkie Kapp/INPHO

A good scrum in the 17th minute led to man of the match Healy flying over the first of his two tries. Marais sent another penalty through the uprights, before Healy completed his brace in the 21st minute.

A penalty apiece by Marais and Jack Carty saw the match at 16-15 in favour of the hosts at the half-time interval.

Carty handed the Connacht the lead three minutes into the second half with a penalty which gave the visitors the lead.

After relentless pressure from multiple phases and good ball retention, the Cheetahs defence finally cracked with Eoin Griffin dotting down under the sticks for a converted try to inch the scoreline into a 25-16 lead.

A few minutes later the Cheetahs replacement winger Rabs Maxwane rounded off for the hosts to keep their chances alive.

However the altitude started to take its toll on Connacht, but by the same token, the Cheetahs looked like they were also battling after spending three weeks in Wales and Scotland.

Repeated infringements saw the Cheetahs move into the Connacht 22, and the Springbok centre Francois Venter made the brave call to take a shot on goal for the winning score and confirm four points in the bag.

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Morgan Piek

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