A 79th minute drop goal from Jacques-Louis Potgieter gave the Free State Cheetahs a shock 23-21 victory over the Sharks in the first Currie Cup semi-final in Durban on Saturday.
The Cheetahs fought back from being 18-3 down early in the second half to finally secure a stunning victory in the dying minutes. Potgieter was the man of the moment, scoring 18 of the Cheetahs' 23 points.
The Cheetahs would have been wondering how they were trailing 8-3 at half time. The visitors had enjoyed the lion's share of possession and territory, were dominating in both the line-outs and scrums and were forcing the Sharks to make an awful lot of tackles.
Yet the Free Staters were unable to covert that domination into points and were made to pay by the defending champions who scored two tries against the run of play to open a decent gap by half time. The Sharks were giving the Cheetahs a lesson in taking their opportunities.
Bizarrely the Sharks sorted their set-piece play out in the second period after their front row had suffered in the first forty minutes, but it was the Cheetahs who scored 20 late points to pull the game from the fire.
The Cheetahs showed all the early initiative, running when the Sharks were kicking, continually probing and applying the pressure. The team in white and orange took a deserved lead when Potgieter slotted a penalty on six minutes.
When the Cheetahs decided against another penalty and in favour of a line-out and then fluffed the maul, a first opportunity was lost.
The Sharks made their visitors pay soon afterwards when full-back Stefan Terblanche scored the first try against the run of play. From turnover ball Juan Hernandez started the counter attack in his own 22, Odwa Ndungane provided a neat chip down the touchline and his captain was first to the ball in-goal after a wicked bounce.
The Cheetahs let further chances slip when Potgieter missed two penalties and a drop goal to leave the scores at 5-3 despite the Cheetahs' 64 per cent of the possession.
The Sharks pulled clear in the final ten minutes of the half when Ruan Pienaar kicked a penalty, scored another try against the run of play (started by JP Pietersen and Jacques Botes) and added the conversion to give the hosts a twelve-point head-start when the teams swapped ends.
The Sharks started the second period with the wind at their backs and Hernandez used it to press on the advantage with a drop goal soon after the restart.
Potgieter replied with another penalty after the Cheetahs wasted another try-scoring opportunity with some sloppy handling. With half-an-hour to play, the result seemed inevitable.
In typical fashion however, just when the Cheetahs seemed out of it, they came up with a try as WP Nel bashed his way over the whitewash under the posts.
Potgieter's conversion reduced the gap to just five points at 18-13.
And then Potgieter's runaway try - when he picked up a loose ball from a poor pass by Pienaar - made it all square. You guessed it...Potgieter added the conversion to put the Cheetahs ahead.
The lead was short-lived however as a Pienaar penalty put the hosts back in front at 21-20 with under twenty minutes to play.
Unsurprisingly the final ten minutes become a tense, scrappy and unstructured affair as both teams looked to the deliver the knock-out blow. Hernandez missed a couple of drop attempts as tempers frayed.
True to their unpredictable nature, the Cheetahs finally pulled of an historic win as Potgieter slotted his drop from 35 metres out to sink the hearts of the Sharks and their home fans.
Man of the match: There can be only one. Eighteen points, a try and the winning drop...Jacques-Louis Potgieter was the man! The Cheetahs front row also deserve a special mention for giving their Springbok counterparts a very tough day.
Moment of the match: No prizes for guessing this one. Potgieter's drop will go down in Cheetahs history.
Villain of the match: Nothing worth mentioning.
For The Sharks:
Tries: Terblanche, Pienaar
For Free State Cheetahs:
Cons: Potgieter 6
The Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche (c), 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Juan Hernandez, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 John Smit, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Jannie du Plessis, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Andries Strauss.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 CornÃ© Uys, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 JP Joubert, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Frans Viljoen, 6 Heinrich BrÃ¼ssow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt (c), 3 WP Nel, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Coenie Oosthuizen, 17 Izak van der Westhuizen, 18 Hendro Scholtz, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Louis Strydom, 22 Fabian Juries.
Venue: Absa Stadium, Durban
Weather:19 Â°C- Cloudy with rain; Wind Gentle South Easterly
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant referees: Pro Legoete, Christie du Preez
TMO: Johann Meuwesen