Matt Giteau landed a last-minute penalty from 40 metres to hand the Western Force an ultimately deserved 16-15 win in the Super 14 on Friday.
Conrad Barnard had a shot for the posts to seal the deal for the Cheetahs with a minute to go, but pushed it right, and from the two-minute-long counter-attack from behind their own line, the Force managed to eke out the penalty for Giteau to land.
It was rough justice in a way, for the Cheetahs had clung on tenaciously, but the overall domination of the Australians over the eighty minutes deserved little less than the win.
After last week's errors, this was a breath of fresh air. The teams played with far more focus on their strategy than has been seen hitherto under the new laws, yet still managed to speed the game up. It seems a happy medium has been struck between old school and new. Hallelujah!
The Force were generally far better, despite their shortcomings in the scrum. Matt Giteau, scorer of all his team's points, varied play wisely. He kicked prudently and economically, and gave his centres and runners all the space they needed to run into to make the hard yards.
But what the home team lacked in comparative playing intelligence, they made up for in enthusiasm and strength. It was only two pieces of silliness late on that cost them a valiant victory.
They even held the lead for roughly half the match. After some promising play from the Force, a portent of things to come, the Cheetahs scored off their first meaningful spell of pressure in the sixth minute.
Gavin Passens broke the line out on the left and got himself to the Force's 22. Back the quick ball came to the right, with Barend Pieterse making some hard yards up the middle, and then out it went right again to tall full-back Hennie Daniller who powered home in the corner. Jacques-Louis Potgieter's conversion was superb from the touchline, and it was 7-0 to the home team.
Back came the Force, winning the restart, and just two minutes later it was back even. Drew Mitchell made a stepping break up the left and when the ball came back, Giteau had an acre of space to step through and saunter under the posts.
The Cheetahs were kept continually on the back foot for much of the first half hour, with the Australians retaining ball excellently - perhaps helped by the rub of the green on occasion - and with Mitchell in particular looking lively with the ball in hand.
A cynical 'off-your-feet' penalty gave Giteau the chance to give his side the lead for the first time after 17 minutes, but cracks were beginning to appear in the Force's veneer.
The Perth scrum was under heavy pressure. Where the Cheetahs had no problem stabilising their set piece, the Force's was often reset, a clear indicator that the props were shaking.
Eventually the pressure told. A Force scrum in their own 22 disintegrated and big flanker Heinrich Broussouw peeled off the back of it to take the loose ball, brush Giteau aside, and crash over for the score in the 33rd minute. It was 12-10 to the home team, yet they had had only 29 per cent of the possession and had been forced into making more than three times as many tackles as their guests.
Those stats persisted, as did the pattern of the game. By the hour mark the pattern of the game had not changed, and the Force had had both 65 per cent of possession and territory. Yet still, all they had to show for their efforts post-break was another Giteau penalty - a bizarre one awarded when Conrad Barnard ran on as a substitute without the referee's assistant's permission.
Slowly, the Cheetahs, presumably taking advantage of the acclimatisation difficulties being suffered by their opposition, wore their way down to the Force 22 with a mixture of astute kicking and hefty forward grunt, and Barnard was given the chance to atone for his earlier misjudgement with 15 to go. He slotted it, and the home team led once more, 15-13.
So it stayed. The Force tired, and the Cheetahs held their shape, with Barnard, Meyer Bosman, and Daniller punting huge energy-sapping kicks way back down into Force territory as their defensive line grew in stature and turnovers were forced.
And in the final minute: another Bloemfontein finale to match that of last week. Barnard was given a shot at goal. He sliced it across the face. Mitchell and Scott Daruda ran it back superbly to the half-way line. Back and forth the ball went for two precious minutes, with the metres slowly being eaten up as the Force runners, all fifteen of them, utilised every last ounce of strength to carry it on or drive over in support.
The pressure got too much for Broussouw, who lay on a ruck ball as innocently as if he had been planted there, and Giteau made no mistake. Another one-point home loss for the Cheetahs, but considering the nature of the penalties that sacrificed the win, they have only themselves to blame.
Man of the match: For the home side, Hennie Daniller, Jacques-Louis Potgieter and lock Barend Pieterse all had excellent games. For the away side, Drew Mitchell was a livewire, Matt Giteau scored all the points, and Scott Fava's cameo was a welcome burst from th bench. But the award goes to Force skipper Nathan Sharpe, who drove in loose and tight all game long, and found several moments where he was able to even dictate play from scum-half! Inspirational.
Moment of the match: The penalty is an obvious choice, so we'll go for the scrum from the Cheetahs that led to their second try. Awesome!
Villain of the match: Might be a little harsh to villainise Heinrich Broussouw for conceding the killer penalty, but he really should have done better in that position.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Daniller, Broussouw
For the Force:
Pens: Giteau 3
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Gavin Passens, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Duanne Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith (c), 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Rory Duncan, 4 Barend Pieterse, 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Bees Roux, 18 David de Villiers, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Hendrik Meyer , 21 Tobie Botes, 22 Conrad Barnard.
Western Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Ryan Cross, 13 Scott Staniforth, 12 Scott Daruda, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 James Stannard, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Sam Wykes, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Troy Takiari, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 AJ Whalley, 18 Dave Pusey, 19 Tamaiti Horua, 20 Scott Fava, 21 Lachlan MacKay, 22 Josh Tatupu.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television match official: Michael Cupido (South Africa)
Assessor: Arrie Schoonwinkel (South Africa)