Cheetahs 35 Waratahs 34
Riaan Smit of the Cheetahs looks for support as Drew Mitchell and Rob Horne close in. Photo: Getty Images
The Cheetahs held on during a tense finish to pip the Waratahs 35-34 on Saturday in a nine-try Super 15 match.
The bonus-point victory for the South Africans was particularly sweet as they have lost out in several close endings to southern hemisphere provincial championship games this season.
In space ... Berrick Barnes. Photo: Getty Images
Waratahs will be upset at a second narrow loss on tour, especially as they scored two tries within seven minutes of the kick-off to open a 14-point lead and were 34-21 ahead in the second half.
A feature of a lively encounter was the excellent place kicking with neither Cheetahs fly-half Riaan Smit (four attempts) nor Waratahs scrum-half Brendan McKibbin (six) missing a shot at goal.
Traditional masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Cheetahs halted a run of four losses in five matches as the strength of tight-head prop WP Nel and speed of left wing Willie le Roux delivered second-half tries.
Sarel Pretorius of the Waratahs playing against his former team. Photo: Getty Images
Smit and his replacement, Sias Ebersohn, converted the scores to give the home team a one-point lead they successfully defended for 22 minutes until the final whistle sounded.
"It was great to win after a disappointing first-half showing. We did some tough talking at half-time and it paid off," said Cheetahs hooker and skipper Adriaan Strauss.
Waratahs' loose-head prop and stand-in captain Benn Robinson replied: "It was a very unhappy outcome for us after scoring those early tries. We have a lot of areas to work on."
Sitaleki Timani of the Waratahs wins a line-out. Photo: Getty Images
A relief for the Australians was that Wallaby wing Drew Mitchell came through his first appearance for the team in more than a year unscathed after lengthy ankle and hamstring injury lay-offs.
The try fest began after four minutes with flanker Dave Dennis punishing sloppy defending to dot down and lock Sitaleki Timani went over two minutes later before a small, vocal crowd in the central city.
Smit converted tries from scrum-half Piet van Zyl and Le Roux to restore equality before McKibbin kicked a penalty and Strauss intercepted a blindside pass and raced over for a converted try and a 21-17 advantage to his side.
Waratahs regained the initiative in the latter stages of the opening half with outside centre Rob Horne and Timani, again, going over to leave the visitors 31-21 in front by the break.
McKibbin stretched the lead with his second penalty, but they proved the final points for the Sydney side as Cheetahs crossed the tryline twice within four minutes for a second consecutive victory over the Waratahs.
CHEETAHS 35 (Willie Le Roux 2, WP Nel, Adriaan Strauss, Piet van Zyl tries Riaan Smit 4, Sias Ebersohn cons) bt NSW WARATAHS 34 (Sitaleki Timani 2, Dave Dennis, Rob Horne tries Brendan McKibbin 4 cons 2 pens) at Vodacom Park. Referee: Craig Joubert.