Cheetahs stage late dramatic come back to bite Southern Kings
Hopes that the Southern Kings would end their stay in Super Rugby with a win were dashed by a fired up Cheetahs side who ran out narrow 21-20 winners in a thrilling showdown at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday night.
At one stage the Kings enjoyed a healthy 17-3 lead, but the Cheetahs fought back with two quick tries from Clinton Swart and Raymond Rhule in the final stages. The Kings had never previously managed to beat the Free Staters in Super Rugby and a crowd of 10,015 were at the stadium in the hope that the Port Elizabeth franchise could end the long-running hoodoo. There were poignant scenes at the end when Kings coach Deon Davids joined his players on the field in what was farewell match for many.
Thanks to two first half tries, the Kings were leading 12-3 at the break in a tight game that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats. The Kings made a flying start to the second half and lock Giant Mtyanda crossed for their third try after centre Berton Klaasen set him free with a well timed pass. It was clear that the Kings were determined to put on show for their home fans and they ran the ball at every opportunity against the Free Staters. Skipper Lionel Cronje was at the centre of many forays into the heart of the Cheetahs defence as the home team pressed for their third consecutive Super Rugby win. Throughout the season the Kings have delighted fans throughout the country with their attacking brand of rugby, and they continued in the same vein.
The Kings stretched their lead to 20-6 after 61 minutes when Cronje kicked a penalty as the home team continued to cash in on their dominance. After Cronje’s penalty, the Cheetahs threw everything at the Kings and they crossed for two quick tries by Swart and Rhule to leave the Kings clinging to a narrow 20-18 lead with ten minutes left. With six minutes left Neil Marais stepped to kick a crucial penalty, which saw the Cheetahs edge into a 21-10 lead with only six minutes left on the clock. It was the Cheetahs who enjoyed most of the early possession, and they were ahead after five minutes when Fred Zeilinga kicked a penalty to give his team the early advantage. The early penalty was followed by spell of long and high kicks as both sides probed for a weakness in the opposition.
There was some drama after 19 minutes when Kings wing Makazole Mapimpi squeezed over the tryline in the corner despite the attention of several Cheetahs defenders. The try was only awarded after referee Egon Seconds viewed the incident several times on the stadium’s big screen. Reliable Cronje nailed a tricky conversion from out wide to put the home team 7-3 ahead. The Cheetahs thought they had a try of their own after wing William Small-Smith attempted to go over in the corner. The officials, after watching replays, disallowed the attempted five-pointer. The Kings were over for their second try when wing Wandile Mjekevu sliced through the Cheetahs defence to put his team 12-3 ahead after 34 minutes.
It was only the fourth win of the season for a Cheetahs side who were delighted to end the season on a high. The scorers:Southern Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Wandile Mjekevu, Giant Mtyanda
Conversion: Lionel Cronje
Penalty: CronjeCheetahs 21: Tries: Clinton Swart, Raymond RhuleConversion: Neil MaraisPenalties: Fred Zeilinga (2), Maraisd