Junior Pokomela ... Not for the first time in an outstanding season to date, the lanky flank of the Cheetahs caught the eye as his team fought till the bitter end to win their first away match of the season.
The Cheetahs hung on to beat Ospreys at The Gnoll in Neath 18-13 in a hard-fought, close match.
Pokomela linked, ran, tackled, won turnovers and seriously confirmed that he will be discussed as a candidate when the next Springbok side is selected in June. He was everywhere, running 40 metres off eight carries and winning several crucial turnovers to turn the tide.
It was a tough, no-give match in true PRO14 tradition with a period of 42 minutes between scores after the Ospreys had taken the lead at 10-8 after 22 minutes.
It was the Ospreys sixth defeat in seven PRO14 matches and their second loss against a South African franchise. They have also lost both their European Champions Cup matches against Munster and Saracens.
Like the Cheetahs, who also have a number of in jury problems, the Ospreys are struggling to get the results. The resolve is there, but with their man-power limited by injuries, the uncertainty about and controversy around their head coach Allen Clarke didn’t help the home side to keep the Cheetahs winless in Europe this season.
The Free State side deserved the win. They made twice as many metres as he home side with their running but made things difficult for themselves with uncertain handling and a high penalty count against them.
The Cheetahs conceded an unacceptable 14 penalties with the home side also on the wrong side of the referee’s whistle by conceding nine penalties.
The Cheetahs defence also wasn’t quite where it should be and their and tackling that saw 19 of 136 tackles (14%) missed, while the home side missed only 21 from 163 attempts (12,9%). The Ospreys were also allowed too many breaks and long runs from missed tackles.
The Cheetahs broke the 10-8 deadlock in favour of the Ospreys in the 64th minute. Surprisingly for such a tight match where there had been no points for 42 minutes, decided against taking an easy penalty and kick for the corner. With the backs charging in to join the already effective maul, it was Wilmar Arnoldi in his first start who was in possession for his side to take the lead at 15-10.
Five minutes later flyhalf Like price kicked a penalty to reduce the Cheetahs lead at 15-13, but his opposite, Tian Schoeman clinched it for the Free State visitors on 75 minutes with a penalty.
The Ospreys did, however, come very close. Cheetahs lock Sintu Manjezi was sent off for collapsing the maul five metres from the tryline in the 81st minute. Ospreys opted for another attacking lineout to try and steal the match, but the Cheetahs stopped the rolling maul and won a turnover to win the game.
Ospreys (10) 13: Try: Ma’afu Fia. Conversion: Luke Price. Penalties: Price (2).
Cheetahs (8-18): Tries: William Small-Smith, Wilmar Arnoldi. Conversion: Tian Schoeman. Penalties: Ruan Pienaar, Schoeman.