The Highlanders won a thrilling encounter 41-45 against the Cheetahs at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein thanks to Waisake Naholo’s last minute try.
A helter-skelter game saw the teams trade blows, sharing twelve tries as the Highlanders broke the Free State hearts.
Franco smith’s men will have had nightmares about their loss to the Chiefs after squandering a big lead.
But, they did it again as the Kiwis fought back with two late tries to complete a memorable comeback.
Naholo grabbed a double as did Tian Meyer and Marty Banks scored 20 points as the New Zealanders edged their hosts.
Fred Zeilinga was good from the tee, collecting 11 points, but his two missed conversions proved to be the difference in the end.
The Cheetahs raced to a 22-10 lead before the Highlanders hit back to lead 22-24 early in the second half.
The South Africans did not fold and scored three magic tries to lead 41-24 going into the final quarter.
The question was: can they hold on this time?
This was open and end-to-end rugby by both teams; capped off by the stunning denouement. With the clock showing four minutes to play, the New Zealanders trailed by 17.
Somehow, the managed to reach deep into their reserves and despite fighting fatigue and the Free State altitude, they conjured a remarkable passage of play.
First, Tevita Li scored, followed by Matt Faddes, which brought the game to 41-38 with less than two minutes to play. Surely no more time to find a winner.
Enter Naholo. The flyer’s second of the evening left the Cheetahs’ crowd – and players – stunned as they scored 21 unanswered points in those final minutes.
More to follow…
Final score: Cheetahs 41 (15) Highlanders 45 (10)
Tries – Meyer (2), Peterson, Van Jaarsveld, Mohoje, Nche
Pen – Zeilinga
Con – Zeilinga (4)
Cards – Cassiem (Yellow, 72nd minute)
Tries – Banks, Thompson, Naholo (2), Li, Faddes
Pen – Banks
Con – Banks (6)
Cards – Faddes (Yellow, 35th minute), Tokolahi (Yellow, 42nd minute)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Ref 1: Egon Seconds
Assistant Ref 2: Lourens van der Merwe
TMO: Willie Vos
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche.
Replacements: 16 Elandré Huggett, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Niel Marais.
15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Tevita Li.