Gut-wrenching loss can make us stronger - Keane
Cheetahs 26 Connacht 25
Connacht coach Kieran Keane hopes his side's "gut-wrenching" loss in Bloemfontein will make them stronger if they can learn the painful lessons.
The Westerners were denied what would have been a deserved victory with the last kick of the game at Toyota Stadium on Saturday night.
In a season where the ball has rarely hopped kindly for Keane's side, Cheetahs came back from nine points down late on and snatched victory with a penalty from a lineout infringement in the final minute.
It was horrible luck for a Connacht side who battled superbly in the heat and thin air of the Highveld and looked set to become only the second PRO14 side to win there.
"At half-time we spoke about how fresh we were," noted winger Matt Healy, whose two tries helped Connacht recover from a poor opening when they fell 10-0 behind after just ten minutes - they closed to within a point at 16-15 by the interval. "We were right in the game."
Jack Carty edged them in front for the first time shortly after the restart and then sent Eoin Griffin through to touch down as Connacht led 25-16 after 58 minutes.
But Cheetahs rallied and a try from replacement winger Sibhale Maxwana reduced the gap before Niel Marais broke Connacht hearts.
"It will hurt us in that regard, no doubt about that," said Keane when asked what impact the loss might have on their chances of making the play-offs.
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"Nothing is impossible, things could fall our way. But we have got to take this - there is a lesson or two in there.
"And there is some difficult stuff that we have to deal with and we will do that.
"The one thing I know about this group is that we will learn from it. We have got plenty of other games to play for. We have got plenty of other things to aspire to. We will just let the cards fall as they may.
"We really weren't looking at finals or anything, we are just taking it one game at a time.
"We have had a great tour, apart from losing a game in the 79th minute. It's been good for us," added Keane, whose side return to Ireland after a trip which saw them win 22-19 in Treviso and pick up a bonus point in Bloemfontein.
They outscored the Cheetahs by three tries to two but just couldn't close out the deal, having let the South Africans in for a soft early try and then coughing up the decisive late penalty.
"Some of our things out there were really good," added Keane. "Our set-piece try that we scored was a cracker. But we didn't really handle the pressure terribly well. And of course we coughed up some ball. Cheetahs love having the ball as we know.
"It was either under set-piece conditions, lineout, scrum, penalties, etc, there is some big lessons there for us. Had we maintained the ball we would have won the game.
"We didn't come here to make the numbers up. We came here to give our best and do our best. Probably 95pc of the time we did, and then we lost in the last five minutes. It's gut-wrenching for everybody to come that far and fall on the last hurdle."
Cheetahs - C Blommetjies; C Barry, F Venter, N Lee, L Obi (S Maxwane 19); N Marais, Z Mkhabela (T Meyer 53); O Nche (C Marais 49), T van Jaarsveld (J du Toit 70), J Coetzee (T Botha 53); J Basson, R Hugo (R Bernardo 59); P Schoeman, H Venter (O Mohoje 53), U Cassiem.
Connacht - T O'Halloran; C Kelleher (N Adeolokun 56), E Griffin (C Ronaldson 27-38), P Ahki (C Ronaldson 75), M Healy; J Carty, C Blade; D Buckley, T McCartney (S Delahunt 75), F Bealham (D Robertson McCoy 49); U Dillane (E Masterson 71), J Cannon (G Thornbury 51); S O'Brien, J Butler, J Muldoon.
Ref - S Berry (South Africa).