Despite leading by 30-9 towards the end of the game, the Cheetah's could not cope without flyhalf Johan Goosen and lost 33-36 to the Highlanders.
A strong performance by the Highlanders in the last minutes of the second half secured the visitors a victory of 36-33 over the Cheetahs in the teams Super Rugby game in the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
With 20-minutes to play, the Cheetahs still led comfortably with 30-9, but two tries by replacement scrum half Jimmy Cowan and one by utility back Chris Noakes helped to provide the upset for the team from New Zealand.
The home side’s replacement fly half, Sias Ebersohn, had an opportunity to kick a penalty for the victory in the dying seconds, but he missed right in front.
His counterpart, Chris Noakes, slotted one a minute later to give his side the victory.
For the better part, the Cheetahs looked like the team to beat, but after they lost their star fly half Johan Goosen to injury once again, the wheels came of for the Bloemfontein-based side.
Goosen contributed 21-points to his side’s total, which included a brilliant try in the corner in the second half. But the youngster, who started from the bench two weeks ago against the Chiefs because of a shoulder injury, re-injured himself in his dive for the corner and left the field on a stretcher.
The Cheetahs will have mixed feelings over their performance. They showed good intent early on and put the Highlanders under pressure from the get go.
Goosen slotted his team’s first penalty in the fourth minute after the Cheetahs had the visitors in all sorts of trouble on their goal line.
The Highlanders early on made a lot of lateral runs which enabled the Cheetahs to easily put them under pressure with some impressive tackling.
Highlanders flyhalf Mike Delaney finally got his team on the score board with a penalty in the 10th minute.
Big Cheetahs prop Coenie Oosthuizen scored his side’s first five pointer, diving over after the Highlanders were yet again trumped at the breakdown.
Goosen converted, but offside play by the Cheetahs allowed Delaney to get the Highlanders back into striking distance.
He kicked some huge line kicks, succeeded with all his kicks at goal and completely outshone Delaney on the attack. He kicked another penalty in the 23rd minute to stretch the lead.
The Highlanders got frustrated at the breakdown and after repeated infringements and a warning by referee Marius Jonker, who sin-binned hooker Andrew Hore for negative play. Goosen slotted the penalty with ease and the Cheetahs found themselves in control 12-minutes before half time.
Some brawling on both sides occurred in the last minutes before half time and the Highlanders lock James Haskell got a yellow card for a punch to Cheetahs flanker Justin Downey.
The touch judge suggested a red card, but Jonker showed a yellow as well as a white card to have the incident reviewed.
That left the visitors with only 13 men and the Cheetahs in a good attacking position. It was only a matter of time before the home side struck again, this time via lock Andries Ferreira to help the home side to a half time lead of 23-9.
The Cheetahs came out in the second half all guns blazing and almost scored immediately, but flanker Heinrich Brussow was held up in the tackle.
The Highlanders looked a little more composed on the attack, but the Cheetahs upped their defence and left little space for the visitors.
Soon afterwards Goosen capped his good performance with a try from 60 metres out, scoring in the corner, but injuring his shoulder in the process. His replacement Ebersohn kicked the conversion while Goosen left the field on a stretcher.
Loss of momentum
The Cheetahs lost huge momentum after Goosen departed and replacement Chris Noakes scored under the upright and converted to get the Highlanders back in the game.
The home side’s defence started showing cracks and when replacement scrum half Cowan scored twice with 15-minutes remaining the scores were tied at 30-points each.
Ebersohn settled things down with a penalty kick in the 70th minute, but Noakes answered back soon thereafter.
The home side kept on attacking and after 11 phases got the penalty in front but to his dismay Ebersohn missed it. Noakes however, made no mistake when he kicked for victory soon thereafter.
Points scorers: Highlanders Tries: Chris Noakes, Jimmy Cowan (2) Conversions: Chris Noakes (3) Penalties: Mike Delaney (3), Chris Noakes (2).
Cheetahs Tries: Coenie Oosthuizen, Andries Ferreira, Johan Goosen Conversions: Johan Goosen (2), Sias Ebersohn.
Penalties: Johan Goosen (3),Ebersohn.—Sapa