The Toyota Cheetahs’ hope of reaching the Guinness PRO14 playoffs was reduced to a mathematical chance this weekend after the Free State team suffered their third defeat in a row on tour, against defending champions, Leinster, in Dublin on Friday.
It was a bitter-sweet Saturday for the Isuzu Southern Kings, meanwhile, who managed to salvage a bonus point in the dying minutes against the Cardiff Blues in Wales. They went down 26-19 in challenging weather to lift them off the foot of the Conference B log for the first time this season.
With both sides going down in their last three tour matches, they will target a strong finish to the season, especially with one UK match remaining in three weeks’ time before returning to SA for their last three pool games.
Isuzu Southern Kings go down fighting against Cardiff Blues
The Isuzu Southern Kings went down fighting against the Cardiff Blues in Wales on Saturday after entering the break at 7-7 and then taking a brief 12-7 lead before the hosts scored back-to-back tries to break away on the scoreboard.
A try at the death by replacement back Masixole Banda, which he converted in wet, windy and cold conditions, however, earned the team a valuable bonus point, which lifted them off the foot of the Conference B standings.
The hosts showed their intent early on with a try out wide in the second minute, but the half proved to be tightly-fought as both teams retained possession on attack and ran hard at the defence, but battled to break through.
The Isuzu Southern Kings were rewarded with a try four minutes before halftime as Dries van Schalkwyk crashed over from a pick-and-go, while the Cardiff Blues were reduced to 14 men, to level the scores at 7-7 going into halftime.
The visitors added their second try compliments of Michael Willemse two minutes after play resumed thanks to a powerful driving maul, but the teams were level at 12-12 shortly after as the hosts scored the first of three second-half tries. Their bonus point try, however, was scored with the Isuzu Southern Kings a man short as Tertius Kruger was sent to the sin bin.
Coach Deon Davids’ men continued to fight until the end and their patience on attack saw Banda dive in and convert the try in the 80th minute to secure the bonus point for losing by seven points or less.
Cardiff Blues 26 (7) Isuzu Southern Kings 19 (7)
Isuzu Southern Kings – Tries: Dries van Schalkwyk, Michael Willemse, Masixole Banda. Conversions: Bader Pretorius, Masixole Banda.
Cardiff Blues – Tries: Owen Lane, Nick Williams, Olly Robinson, Jason Harries. Conversions: Jarrod Evans (3).
Defending champions hold off determined Toyota Cheetahs
Guinness PRO14 title contenders and the top side in the competition this season, Leinster, held off a determined Toyota Cheetahs outfit in Dublin on Friday for a 19-7 victory, which marked their 15th win in 17 matches.
The visitors found themselves under pressure early on as Ox Nche was yellow-carded in the ninth minute, and Leinster capitalised on this immediately to score their first of three tries.
Despite being a player down, the visitors worked their way onto the scoreboard in the 14th minute as speedster Rabz Maxwane showed his class to gather a kick-through from a loose ball at pace and touched down to push the score to 7-7.
The home team finished the half strongly with their patience on attack earning them their second try 12-7 halftime lead.
The second half proved to be a hard grind as both teams tried hard to make their presence felt on attack and defended with intent, and Leinster’s third try was the only points scored. This secured them a 19-7 victory.
The defeat left the Toyota Cheetahs 11 points behind Connacht and the Cardiff Blues, who are the main contenders for the last playoff spot in Conference A, with four pool matches to go. This means they need to win all their remaining matches – some with bonus points – while hoping other teams will slip up for Franco Smith’s men to make it to the playoffs.
Leinster 19 (12) Toyota Cheetahs 7 (7)
Leinster – Tries: Conor O’Brien, Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin. Conversions: Ross Byrne (2)
Toyota Cheetahs – Try: Rabs Maxwane. Conversion: Tian Schoeman
Other Round 17 results:
Saturday, 2 March:
Connacht 46-5 Ospreys (The Sportsground, Galway)
Benetton 18-10 Edinburgh (Stadio Monigo, Treviso)
Scarlets 10-6 Munster (Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli)
Zebre 10-42 Glasgow Warriors (Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma)