The Chiefs edged a tense Super 14 game against the luckless Cheetahs 22-20 at Waikato Stadium on Saturday, although it could have all been so different for the South African side.
Never has the old adage of 'a game of two halves' been more apt than in Hamilton on Saturday. The Cheetahs led 17-0 at half-time only to see their hosts hit back after the break to claim victory in the dying moments.
The Cheetahs went into the game on the back of three straight defeats and with forty minutes on the clock looked as if they would break their duck, that was until they fell asleep and let their hosts back into the game.
Stats don't always tell the truth but in the opening twenty minutes they provided a fair reflection of proceedings. With seventy per cent of territory the Cheetahs converted their pressure into an early ten-point lead.
Eddie Fredericks showed a clean set of heels to round off a swift attack after just ten minutes. Awarded a free-kick on half-way Falie Oelschig spotted some space out wide and sent the ball down the back line, JW Jonker broke a weak Callum Bruce tackle and sent Fredericks under the posts. Conrad Barnard added the extras.
Sitiveni Sivivatu's reckless tackle on JW Jonker added to the Chiefs' shocking start, earning him ten minutes in the sin-bin, although he can be grateful that was all he got. Barnard took the three points on offer and Naka Drotske must have thought this would finally be his side's day.
In fact it got better before the half-hour mark. First Stephen Donald missed a simple chance at goal for the Chiefs and then Jongi Nokwe punished the hosts with his searing pace. The try came from a turnover but it was the quick hands to Nokwe that enabled the speedster to cruise over for a converted try.
With the Cheetahs' tails up the Chiefs were struggling, failing to string any meaningful rugby together and lacking in direction. They thought they had scored against the run of play late in the half but the angle of the ball prevented it from touching the whitewash and Brendon Leonard was denied, as was Donald who missed a penalty with the last kick of the half.
Whatever was said at the break had a telling effect on the game as the Chiefs came out looking like the side holding the comfortable lead, while the Cheetahs seemed to be going into their shells. It took a lucky break to get the home side going, Leonard awarded a dubious try by the TMO, but nonetheless it did the trick.
From there it was all change, the Chiefs suddenly found some fluidity and began to look dangerous every time they got the ball, especially from turnover. And it was from a turnover that they added a second try five minutes after Leonard's effort. Faifili Levave snaffled the ball at the ruck and Leonard sent it wide, Sivivatu's pass to Willis looked a shade forward but play was waved on - resulting in Sivivatu finishing the move for a fine try.
With just three points in it the Cheetahs were out on their feet, although a second Barnard penalty afforded them a little respite - not that it lasted long. The pressure began to mount as the Chiefs mounted raid after raid on the visitors' line without quite managing to finish things off.
Just as the Cheetahs thought they had weathered the storm Callum Bruce burrowed his way over for the try that effectively decided the game. Several tight drives laid the platform for Bruce to sneak over at the edge of the ruck, Donald missed the conversion but you sensed the Cheetahs had given up the ghost - despite holding a one-point lead still.
That lead, and the game, was snatched from them with five minutes to go and they only had themselves to blame. Lelia Masaga was flying for the line as Fredericks came across, seemingly with plenty of time to make the tackle, yet he opted to go high for Masaga and in doing so cleaned him up and earned himself a yellow card.
Donald, who had been blowing hot and cold with the boot, stepped up to slot a sublime kick from the touchline to seal the win. The Cheetahs mounted a late charge to try and rescue the game but never really looked like doing so. As it was the game ended when Hennie Daniller knocked on under his own posts and the players' reactions said it all as another game slipped away from the Cheetahs.
Man of the Match: In the first half Falie Oelschig was a rock for the Cheetahs, as was Duanne Vermeulen. The Chiefs scrum-half Brendon Leonard was busy throughout but the star man was young Faifili Levave who turned in a stellar display on the flank. A powerful runner he caused chaos in the Cheetahs defence and weighed in with some heavy hits of his own.
Moment of the Match: Struggling to get into the game it was the TMO awarding Leonard a try that never was that swung this one.
Villain of the Match: A double award here as both Sitiveni Sivivatu and Eddie Fredericks came up with shocking tackles. Both saw yellow for their crimes and could well be hearing from the citing commissioner before the weekend is out.
For The Chiefs:
Tries: Leonard, Sivivatu, Bruce
Cons: Donald 2
For The Cheetahs:
Tries: Fredericks, Nokwe
Cons: Barnard 2
Pens: Barnard 2
Yellow Card: Sivivatu (20th minute - dangerous tackle), Fredericks (74th minute - high tackle)
Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Sosene Anesi, 13 Dwayne Sweeney, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Sione Lauaki, 7 Tom Harding, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Ben May, 2 Tom Willis, 1 Simms Davison.
Replacements: 16 Vern Kamo, 17 Ben Castle, 18 Hayden Hopgood, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Tanerau Latimer, 21 David Bason, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Conrad Barnard, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Duanne Vermeulen, 7 Darron Nel, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 Rory Duncan (captain), 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Ronnie Uys, 18 David de Villiers, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Tobie Botes, 21 Tewis de Bruyn, 22 Hendrik Meyer.
Referee: Paul Marks (Australia)
Touch judges: Geoff Acton (Australia), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Assessor: Stuart Beissel (New Zealand)