Farrell strikes with final play as Connacht stop runaway Cheetahs in their tracks
Connacht 24 Cheetahs 22
This was one fixture when Connacht would have hoped for some dirty west of Ireland weather to greet the high-flying Cheetahs but in the end Andy Friend’s men needed little climatic assistance to inflict a first defeat of the campaign on the Bloemfontein side who had opened with 15 points from three home games.
Instead, Connacht produced a dramatic a brave final play to snatch victory with the clock deep in the red when they opted for a scrum from a penalty in front of the posts despite trailing by three points.
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It was a brave call but it paid off with replacement centre Tom Farrell not only snatching the win but also the bonus point with his second try of the night.
It was no more than Connacht deserved after a gripping contest where both sides used the dry ball and good surface to run plenty of ball.
The Cheetahs defended well initially with some superb big hits but a fine break from deep by out-half Conor Fitzgerald created the field position for the opening try after 14 minutes.
Winger John Porch was stopped but eight phases later saw Fitzgerald slip Niyi Adeolokun through for his first try in the competition in over a year.
The Cheetahs hit back and the exciting running of full-back Rhyno Smith and winger Anthony Volmink created openings and after a couple of penalties to the left corner, hooker Joseph Dweba managed to get over.
Ruan Pienaar was unable to convert and the South Africans suffered a big blow two minutes from the break when his opposite number Kieran Marmion, making his first start after his surprise World Cup omission, finished in style after a fine break down the right by Adeolokun.
Fitzgerald added his second conversion and Connacht went into the changing room with a pep in their step after successfully defending a penalty to the right corner and a tackle count of Cheetahs 98 to Connacht’s 50 told its own story at the break.
Pienaar pulled back a penalty for the Cheetahs five minutes after the restart and they hit the front after 56 minutes when Rhyno Smith scored his sixth try of the campaign with a superb run through the home defence, with Pienaar converting to make it 15-14.
They pushed on and winger Clayton Blommetjies raced through to score a converted try to lead 22-14 after 63 minutes.
Connacht were given an opening nine minutes from time when centre Dries Swanepoel was sent off for a head tackle on Caolin Blade.
Connacht went to the corner with the penalty and replacement centre Farrell got over for the try.
Two penalties to touch yielded nothing but with the clock in the red they won a penalty in front of the posts and their bravery was rewarded when Farrell finished it off after a good scrum to secure a third win in four for Connacht.
Scores – Connacht: N Adeolokun, K Marmion, T Farrell 2 tries; C Fitzgerald 2 cons. Cheetahs: J Dweba, R Smith, C Blommetjies tries; R Pienaar 2 cons, pen.
Connacht: S Fitzgerald; N Adeolokun (D Leader 65), K Godwin, P Robb (T Farrell 61), J Porch; C Fitzgerald, K Marmion (C Blade 57); D Buckley (M Burke 69), T McCartney (D Heffernan 61), F Bealham (D Robertson-McCoy 57); G Thornbury (U Dillane 44), Q Roux (C Gallagher 52); E Masterson, J Butler, P Boyle.
Cheetahs: R Smith; C Blommetjies, D Swanepoel, B Janse van Rensburg, A Volmink (W Small-Smith 65); T Schoeman, R Pienaar; O Nche (B Venter 74), J Dweba (W Arnoldi 74), A Coetzee (L de Bruin 65); S Manjezi, W Steenkamp (JP du Preez 75); G Olivier, J Pokomela (S Koen 74), J Wiese.
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales).