Fred Zeilinga kicked a late penalty to help the Cheetahs edge the Western Force 30-29 in Bloemfontein.
The Western Force scored 19 unanswered points in the second half to take the lead from the Cheetahs before Zeilinga kicked the match winner.
The Cheetahs scored four tries within 33 minutes to enjoy a 27-10 halftime lead, but the Force roared back in the second stanza to score 19 unanswered points.
But flyhalf Fred Zeilinga kept his cool to slot a difficult penalty 45 metres out on the angle with three minutes to go to give the Cheetahs a well-deserved victory.
The danger wasn’t over at that point as the Force took the ball through 23 phases after the hooter, but didn’t make much progress, and eventually a double-tackle from Uzair Cassiem and Clayton Blommetjies took Force centre Kyle Godwin down, and replacement George Whitehead kicked the ball out.
The Cheetahs’ pack of forwards were dominant throughout, and they set up the team’s opening touchdown when a powerful scrum obliterated the Force unit. Centre Francois Venter showed a superb touch to fling an inside ball to a flying Sergeal Petersen, who was just short of the tryline, but No 8 Paul Schoeman dotted down against the base of the uprights.
The Bloemfontein side found their rhythm after the first quarter, and in a brilliant passage of play, lock Carl Wegner was brought down inside the Force 22, but flank Cassiem rounded off in the right-hand corner.
The Cheetahs’ defence has been their major downfall this season, and a lack of a structured chase-line saw Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty run back around 30 metres before any defender was in sight, and inside centre Godwin produced a good dummy to bring the visitors back into the game.
But Franco Smith’s replied with two tries within three minutes. The forwards mauled strongly off a lineout and charged forward around 10 metres before scrumhalf Tian Meyer went to the blindside on the right, with fullback Blommetjies gliding over.
And the home team brought up their fourth try of the game in just 33 minutes when the hard-working flank Cassiem stepped and made a tremendous break from inside his own 22, and found a rampaging Oupa Mohoje on his inside. The Force cover defence caught the Cheetahs No 7, but no one was going to stop Petersen out wide.
But the tables were turned in the second half, where perhaps a bit of over-confidence from the Cheetahs allowed the Force back into the game. Durban-born fullback Haylett-Petty – who was one of eight Force players in the match-23 with strong South African connections – showed his game-breaking abilities as he fielded a quick lineout from wing Luke Morahan inside his own half and stepped past three Cheetahs to run all the way to the tryline.
Haylett-Petty wasn’t done yet as the Force threw caution to the wind with 15 minutes left and the score at 27-15 as they attacked from inside their own half off a scrum.
Replacement wing Semisi Masirewa beat opposite number Raymond Rhule on the outside and chipped ahead for Haylett-Petty to gather and go over.
The Cheetahs had lost their way entirely at this point, and two penalties from substitute flyhalf and former Stormers stalwart Peter Grant put the Force into the lead at 29-27 with seven minutes to go.
After Zeilinga put the Cheetahs ahead again, Grant had a shot at goal from the halfway line, but it was well short and the home side held on at the end.
Next week the Cheetahs travel to Durban where they will play the Sharks at Kings Park. The Force return home to Perth as they host the Stormers.
Final Score Cheetahs 30 (27) Force 29 (10)
Tries -P. Schoeman, U.Cassiem , C.Blommetjies, S.Petersen
Pen – F.Zeilinga 2
Con – F.Zeilinga 2
Tries -K.Godwin, D,Haylett-Petty 2
Pen -I Prior 2, P.Grant 2
Con – I Prior
Referee: Kubo Shuhei (Japan)
Assistant Ref 1:AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
Assistant Ref 2: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO : Willie Vos (South Africa)
1. Ox Nche , 2. Torsten van Jaarsveld , 3. Maks van Dyk , 4. Carl Wegner , 5. Francois Uys (vc) , 6.Uzair Cassiem , 7. Oupa Mohoje , 8. Paul Schoeman , 9. Tian Meyer , 10. Fred Zeilinga , 11. Raymond Rhule , 12. Michael van der Spuy , 13. Francois Venter (C) , 14. Sergeal Petersen , 15. Clayton Blommetjies
Replacements: 16. Joseph Dweba , 17. Luan de Bruin , 18. Johan Coetzee , 19. Reniel Hugo , 20. Henco Venter , 21. Shaun Venter , 22. George Whitehead , 23. William Small-Smith ,
1 Pek Cowan (C) , 2 Harry Scoble , 3 Tetera Faulkner , 4 Ross Haylett-Petty , 5 Rory Walton , 6 Brynard Stander , 7 Chris Alcock , 8 Angus Cottrell , 9 Ian Prior , 10 Jono Lance , 11 Marcel Brache , 12 Kyle Godwin , 13 Solomoni (Junior) Rasolea , 14 Luke Morahan , 15 Dane Haylett-Petty
Replacements : 16 Anaru Rangi , 17 Francois van Wyk , 18 Guy Millar , 19 Matt Phillips , 20 Richard Hardwick , 21 Ryan Louwrens , 22 Peter Grant , 23 Semisi Masirewa.