It was double heartbreak for both South African sides in the PRO14 championship on Saturday night as a last-gasp try by Connacht midfielder Tom Farrell ended the Toyota Cheetahs unbeaten run while the Isuzu Southern Kings fought back in the second half but were unable to beat Italian side Benetton.
The Cheetahs will be kicking themselves for losing a game they were comfortably 22-14 ahead with less than 10 minutes to go, but a red card to midfielder Dries Swanepoel, as well as two late tries to Farrell, saw them lose at the death and be denied their first-ever win on Irish soil.
The Cheetahs struggled with the conditions in the first half but found their rhythm in the second, with Joseph Dweba, Rhyno Smith and Clayton Blommetjies scoring tries to put them into the lead, but after the red card, Connacht made use of the extra man to come back strong at the end.
“It’s tough to lose like that for any team and unfortunately it was our turn tonight. I felt we were a bit soft in the first half, we didn’t play that well and conceded too many penalties. We had three linebreaks and we didn’t convert,” coach Hawies Fourie said afterwards.
“The second half was a lot better and a lot more purpose in how we played. We managed to get a better ruck speed and get the ball better into our backs’ hands. The attack was a lot better in the second half and I felt that we deserved to win it but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
Captain Ruan Pienaar admitted they struggled with the conditions in the first half, but felt they deserved to win the contest.
“We knew it would be a big challenge for us, and we knew the conditions would be very different. We have been blessed to play Currie Cup and now the first three games in dry conditions. We play an expansive game of rugby that we are good at,” Pienaar said.
“We worked hard this week and I thought we controlled the game well in that second half, especially against a strong wind and we were in the game for 80 minutes.
“It was tough to lose like that at the end and I thought we deserved better.”
In Treviso, the Kings were in the game until a try either side of halftime caused a slump and saw them fall 36-9 behind before three tries in the last quarter saw them fight back to a respectable 36-30 loss.
But in the process, they lost kingpin and flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis to injury, with the extent still to be determined.
Coach Robbie Kempson was not happy with the performance and hinted a number of the younger players would get an opportunity in their next game against Glasgow Warriors.
“I’m disappointed,” Kempson said, “there were a lot of individual errors and a lot of what we spoke about at halftime, they didn’t do in the second half. From a team perspective, we are losing out because of those individual errors. We are creating opportunities but we aren’t converting them.
He said Catrakilis was a big loss for the side. “Demetri is huge for us. He is going for X-rays now and we will always hope for the best. It will be a knock for us but we have a lot of youngsters, and we ended the game with a lot of youngsters on the field that produced the last three tries.
“The next guy must step up and fill the breach and for our next game against Glasgow the youngsters will certainly get an opportunity.”
The Kings will play Glasgow Warriors on Friday night while the Cheetahs move on to Llanelli where they face the Scarletts on Saturday.