There were contrasting emotions in the Toyota Cheetahs and Isuzu Southern Kings camps following the dramatic Guinness PRO14 derby between the sides at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday in which a brave comeback allowed the Free Staters to edge through 31-30.
While Isuzu Southern Kings coach Robbie Kempson was angry at his team’s last-minute defeat, Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie praised his side’s fighting spirit and veteran scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar’s influence as they bounced back from 30-12 down to earn the win.
Pienaar, who took the field a replacement, slotted over two conversions in the last 10 minutes – the second of which was to win the match.
The victory ensured that the Free Staters remained at the top-end of their conference, keeping them in the race for a possible playoff spot later in the season.
“We expected it to be a tight game, but I hoped it wouldn’t be that close,” said Fourie. “It is always a dogfight here. The Kings played really well.
“We made a lot of mistakes that earned them points, especially in the first half. There were three soft tries and that made the game difficult for us.”
Commenting on Pienaar’s influence, Fourie said: “It is great to have a guy with that sort of experience. I trusted him to take that kick. It was the difference between five points and two points, so it was a really important kick for us.”
Fourie complimented the Isuzu Southern Kings’ determined efforts, saying: “I feel that they dominated the contact on attack and defence, especially in the first half, and their lineout functioned well. They had us under pressure for moments in the game.
“They are definitely making progress, and there is a nice vibe in the camp, so they will do well going forward.”
In stark contrast to Fourie, Kempson was a disappointed man, and said individual mistakes cost the team in the end.
“It’s probably more anger than heartbreak,” said Kempson. “That is a game we could have and should have won, but we didn’t. Individual mistakes cost the team, and we have to look at those and make adjustments for the sake of the team, as that is much more important than the individual.
“All their points came from our mistakes.
“I think we had the upper hand on defence, and physically we were harder than them and you could see that from the number of guys who went off the field.”
Despite the disappointment, Kempson took some positives from the performance and said: “The most important thing was the way these guys climbed in on defence. The way our boys defended shows character. They are playing for the jersey but we are not getting the rub of the green in certain circumstances, although you can’t fault the players for that.”
The teams will meet again next Saturday, this time in Bloemfontein.