A last-minute Chris Noakes penalty saw the Highlanders claim a thrilling 36-33 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
A last-minute Chris Noakes penalty saw the Highlanders claim a fine 36-33 win over the Cheetahs on Saturday.
The replacement's successful 80-minute effort came following Sias Ebersohn missing a straightforward penalty from right in front.
And that uncharacteristic blunder saw the New Zealanders go up to the opposition half and when referee Marius Jonker blew, up stepped Noakes.
The win keeps the Highlanders five points behind conference leaders the Chiefs, with the third-place Crusaders, who play on Sunday, six behind.
Fresh from their bye week, the Cheetahs looked fit and raring to go from the outset and set about playing the visitors at their own, dynamic game.
With winger Willie le Roux regularly dropping in at first receiver and also Adriaan Strauss and Coenie Oosthuizen offering momentum with ball in-hand, Naka Drotske's side enjoyed most of the possession in the opening stages and put points on the board via the maturing Johann Goosen.
Their dominance was interrupted by a few passages of Highlanders ball, which saw back-row duo Adam Thomson and James Haskell combine on more than one occasion. Following a levelling penalty from Mike Delany, the Cheetahs were not to be denied retaking the lead when a series of passages led to an in-form Oosthuizen going over. Goosen's extras made it 10-3 to a home side.
Two yellow cards played a factor in the second quarter when first Andrew Hore was sent to the bin following several infringements from his side. But then with Goosen having added a further six points to the scoreline, flanker Haskell soon joined Hore after throwing a punch.
It was obvious that with their two-man advantage, the Cheetahs would be turning down shots at goal and instead look to take maximums against their now stretched opponents. And that is what they did as following sustained pressure, Andries Ferreira bustled over.
At half-time it was 23-9 to the men from Bloemfontein as the Highlanders had it all to do.
The Cheetahs came out in the second-half in Bloemfontein all guns blazing and almost scored immediately, but Springbok flanker Heinrich Brussow found himself held up.
Soon afterwards Goosen capped his good performance with a try form 60 metres out, scoring in the corner, but injuring his shoulder in the process. His replacement Ebersohn kicked the conversion superbly while Baby Bok Goosen left the action on a stretcher.
The Cheetahs lost huge momentum after Goosen departed and replacement Noakes scored under the uprights and converted to get the Highlanders back into the game.
The home side's defence started showing cracks and when replacement scrum-half Jimmy Cowan scored twice with fifteen minutes remaining, the scores were tied at 30 points each.
Ebersohn settled things down with a penalty kick in the 70th minute, but Noakes replied.
The home side kept on attacking and after eleven phases got the penalty in front but to his dismay Ebersohn missed it. Noakes however, made no mistake when he kicked for victory.
Tries: Oosthuizen, Ferreira, Goosen
Con: Goosen 2, S Ebersohn
Pen: Goosen 3, S Ebersohn
Tries: Noakes, Cowan 2
Con: Noakes 3
Pen: Delany 3, Noakes 2
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cameron Jacobs, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Justin Downey, 6 Heinrich BrÃ¼ssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 George Earle, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali'i, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Doug Tietjens, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Siale Piutau.
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)