Jarrad Butler scored a late try as Connacht secured a 25-17 victory against the Cheetahs in Galway on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The defeat snaps the Cheetahs’ four-game winning streak and damages their playoff hopes.
For Connacht, a first win in three games moves them up to third in the Conference A standings, six log points clear of the Cheetahs.
The visitors made a storming start to the clash, dominating possession and looking to expose Connacht’s defence with some audacious offloading.
Their talisman, Rabz Maxwane, opened the scoring in the 11th minute after the Cheetahs surged into the 22 and he outstripped the Connacht defence with sheer pace to chase down William Small-Smith’s well-weighted grubber in the in-goal area.
Connacht responded with a penalty by flyhalf Jack Carty, but the highlight of the opening quarter came in the 20th minute when some magic handling down the right flank between Nico Lee and Small-Smith splintered Connacht’s defensive line, before Louis Fouché took the final pass to go over unopposed.
However, opening a nine-point lead in that fashion may have lulled the Cheetahs into a false sense of security. Their concentration lapsed as complacency crept into their game and they conceded a string of penalties. This gave Connacht easy passage into the 22 and from there, centre Tom Farrell made a dash for the line. He was tackled short, but had the presence of mind to reach out and score, reducing the gap to two points at half-time.
The Cheetahs’ ambitious streak yet again got the better of them as they continued to endeavour to run from all angles. Under pressure 5m from their own tryline, they stole possession away from Connacht but instead of booting a relieving kick downfield, flyhalf Tian Schoeman attempted to run his way out of trouble. When the ball was recycled on the 22, the Cheetahs knocked on and from the subsequent scrum penalty, hooker Tom McMartney powered over to put Connacht in the lead for the first time.
The Cheetahs came alive again at the start of the last quarter when captain Shaun Venter scored a brilliant breakaway try against the run of play to draw his side level at 17-17.
But Schoeman’s conversion attempt was well wide of the target and it would be Connacht who held their nerve to clinch victory. Carty slotted a penalty to put them in the lead and captain Butler then surged down the line and slid over to secure the win.
Connacht – Tries: Tom Farrell, Tom McCartney, Jarrad Butler. Conversions: Carty (2). Penalties: Carty (2).
Cheetahs – Tries: Rabz Maxwane, Louis Fouché, Shaun Venter. Conversion: Schoeman.
Connacht – 15 Darragh Leader, 14 Cian Kelleher, 13 Tom Farrell, 12 Tom Daly, 11 Stephen Fitzgerald, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Caolin Blade, 8 Jarrad Butler (c), 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 James Cannon, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Denis Buckley.
Subs: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 19 Cillian Gallagher, 20 Paul Boyle, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Conor Fitzgerald, 23 Kyle Godwin.
Cheetahs – 15 Louis Fouché, 14 William Small-Smith, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Nico Lee, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Shaun Venter (c), 8 Gerhard Olivier, 7 Junior Pokomela, 6 Abongile Nonkontwana, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Jasper Wiese, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Marnus van der Merwe, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Reinach Venter, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Walt Steenkamp, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Rudy Paige.
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