Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss thought that the last kick in their agonising 15-13 loss in the Super Rugby play-offs to the Brumbies yesterday in Canberra had sailed through the uprights.
“I must say I had great confidence in Riaan (Smit) before that last kick. He is a great kicker and he struck it very well and I really thought it was going over,” a dejected Strauss said after the game.
“Of course I’m very disappointed but still very proud of the boys, and we can build on this for the future.”
While the Cheetahs’ first play-off appearance ended in heartache, the Australians will head to Loftus to face the Bulls in the second semifinal this weekend, while the Chiefs will host the red-hot Crusaders in the first play-off.
With the defeat, the Cheetahs’ fairytale came to an end, and how close it was in the end with Cheetahs replacement wing Rayno Benjamin scoring their second try in the 79th minute to set them up for a possible grand finish.
With the Brumbies lead of 15-8 cut down to just two points after a superb long pass by scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius, it appeared as though the Cheetahs could pull the game out of the fire.
Flyhalf Smit was charged with nailing the conversion to ensure the game went into extra-time, but the ball drifted just wide at the last second.
The Cheetahs scored the only two tries of the game – the first in the 17th minute by centre Johann Sadie after wing Raymond Rhule took a well-executed flat pass from right wing Willie le Roux and ran superbly into space for a 5-3 lead.
It was, however, the Brumbies who dominated territory in the first half and it was only resilient defence by the Cheetahs that kept shutting them out, while referee Glen Jackson punished the visitors relentlessly for transgressions on the ground and at scrum-time.
The Brumbies relied on four penalties by centre Christian Lealifano’a and one by scrumhalf Nick White, with Lealifano’a missing two in awkward windy conditions.
Smit, on the other hand, could only land one of his four attempts, but the Cheetahs looked a different team when Pretorius replaced Piet van Zyl, who has had better days at the office, late in the game.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen admitted it was a nervous time for his team as Smit lined up the final, crucial conversion.
“We know all South African kickers are good for the money, so it was a bit fortunate for us,” he said.
“We knew the Cheetahs were a good attacking side and I think we were outstanding on defence and I believe the team have shown the confidence to go all the way,” he said.
Ahead of the Loftus showdown, Mowen said veteran flank George Smith stood out for them where his better-performing pack helped to nullify the threat of Heinrich Brussow.
“In big games, you need big-name players to stand up and George did that for us. I think for the majority of the game it went well for us,” said Mowen.