The greatest comeback or the greatest choke?
Either way, the Highlanders stunned a small Bloemfontein crowd by scoring three tries in the last four minutes to beat the Cheetahs 45-41 on Friday evening.
It was an amazing game of attacking rugby but the mental strength of Franco Smith’s men will once again be in the spotlight.
Who was the star in this match?
This was a game where the winger excelled on both sides, particularly the hosts’ Raymond Rhule as well as his direct opponent, Waisake Naholo. But the all-round play of Highlanders flyhalf Marty Banks was crucial in this game. He was the instigator of many attacking movements and his goal-kicking was nerveless.
Key events and themes
- It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Highlanders showed the home side how to keep composure. Naturally it was astonishing how the New Zealanders scored three tries in the last four minutes but the clincher was out of this world. Even the smallest error would’ve derailed them. Instead, Banks rode an advantage well with a brilliant cross kick and his teammates simply wore down the defence. Incredible.
- The Cheetahs were excellent in this game. A feature of their sumptuous attacking game was excellent support play and nippy passing. It was particularly present in Oupa Mohoje’s try as well as Ox Nche’s. The linking between forwards and backs is something they could be proud of.
- But that means nothing if the Cheetahs can’t keep their cool and close out games. Psychology plays a massive role at this level and it wasn’t a good sign when the hosts seemed down and slow after Matt Faddes’ penultimate try. It seemed they believed the Highlanders could steal the game, instead of determinedly defending. And given how they’ve thrown away winning positions before, that cost the Cheetahs.
- South Africa still has a long way to go in catching up to New Zealand’s conditioning. Overseas sides usually have a problem with the altitude when they start a tour here yet it seemed as if the Highlanders were far less tired in the last 10 minutes than the Cheetahs.
Highlanders – Tries: Waisake Naholo (2), Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Tevita Lee, Matt Faddes. Conversions: Banks (6). Penalty: Banks.
Cheetahs – Tries: Tian Meyer (2), Sergeal Petersen, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Oupa Mohoje, Ox Nche. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4). Penalty: Zeilinga.