The Cheetahs challenge for a second successive play-off spot received a serious setback in Galway on Saturday night when Connacht scored eight points in the last eight minutes including a try four minutes from time.
This not only denied the Free Staters victory but also a precious bonus point.
The ‘lost’ bonus point could ultimately deny the Cheetahs a play-off because of their inferior points difference should teams end on the same total log points
In the competitive A Conference of the PRO14 competition, the Cheetahs are still in sixth position on the log table with only Zebre below them. (See abbreviated table below). They are however not yet out of the race.
The Cheetahs (36 log points) are now six points behind third-placed Connacht (42) and only two behind the Ospreys and the Cardiff Blues after these two sides’ challenges also faltered with losses on Saturday night.
Connacht have moved into third place with their victory over the Free Staters, who would have been in that position with a win in their clash.
In an exciting and enjoyable match, despite its many errors, Nigel Owen’s refereeing artistry and especially his communication with the players provided additional spice in this hard-fought encounter which was in the balance right to the end.
A look at the stats, where the home side had more possession, carried the ball further and were under less pressure and had to make lees tackles, indicates that the better team had probably won.
Jack Carty was the man who broke the Free State side’s hearts with his penalty eight minutes from time. That broke the 17-all stalemate and the Carty orchestrated a decisive score with his captain Jarrd Butler scoring in the corner four minutes from time.
That made the score 25-17 and left Cheetahs outside the seven-point range for a much-needed losing bonus point.
Connacht (10) 25: Tries: Tom Farrell, Tom McCartney, Jarrd Butler. Conversions: Jack Carty
(2). Penalties: Carty (2)
Cheetahs (12) 17: tries: Rabz Maxwane, Louis Fouche, Shaun Venter. Conversion: Tian Schoeman
Abbreviated A Conference log table (after 15 matches, with six to go)
Glasgow Warriors 51
Cardiff Blues 38