Super Rugby Notebook, Mar 12: Cheetahs rally to beat Sunwolves, Rebels hold off Reds
Cheetahs coach Franco Smith told opponents Sunwolves they can expect to cause some upsets after his side rallied to beat the Super Rugby newcomers 32-31 on Saturday.
For the first time a Super Rugby match was played in Singapore and Japanese franchise Sunwolves appeared set for a famous win, Japan Test winger Akihito Yamada the driving force with a hat-trick that helped them to a 31-13 lead.
However, led by the excellent Niel Marais, the South African side - who had lost their opening two matches - rallied with 19 unanswered points.
"We changed the way we wanted to play in the second half. I always knew that might happen so that's why I put six forwards on the bench," Smith said after Cheetahs' comeback.
"I didn't expect us to fall behind like that, but credit to the Sunwolves. They've done an exceptional job in a short time and they're going to be a tough, difficult side. They can expect a lot of unexpected success."
Elsewhere, Reds' first match since the sacking of Richard Graham ended in an agonising defeat to Rebels and champions Highlanders handed Lions their first defeat of the season.
There was also a big win for Chiefs, while Sharks were winners on the road at Stormers.
Highlanders 34-15 Lions
The match was relatively well poised at the break with Highlanders leading 10-3 in Dunedin. However, 14 points in four second-half minutes took the game away from the visitors. Lions flank Warwick Tecklenburg was cited after the match for allegedly charging into a ruck and making contact with the head of Highlanders' Dan Pryor.
Rebels 25-23 Reds
Graham was dismissed after Reds lost their opening two matches with Matt O'Connor and Nick Stiles place in temporary charge. They recovered from going 16-0 early on and even led 23-22, only for Jack Debreczeni's to quickly put Reds back in front with what proved to be the winning penalty.
Sunwolves 31-32 Cheetahs
In what was just Sunwolves' second Super Rugby match, the hosts came flying out of the blocks and Yamada had his hat-trick by the 34th minute when he pounced on Tusi Pisi's grubber kick. But Uzair Cassiem started a second-half revival and Marais - who had 22 points - scored his second try shortly after following great work from Shaun Venter. Sunwolves tired and Cheetahs took advantage to secure the win.
Southern Kings 24 Chiefs 58
Chiefs rebounded from last week's loss to Lions with a seven-try bonus-point romp in Port Elizabeth. Damien McKenzie was named man of the match after contributing 25 points for Chiefs, who became the first New Zealand franchise to win with the new bonus-point system of scoring three more tries than your opponents.
Stormers 13-18 Sharks
In a match between two unbeaten teams it was Stormers that led 10-3 at half-time in Cape Town, with Leolin Zas on the scoresheet. Siyamthanda Kolisi's yellow card led to a penalty try that brought Sharks level, though, and, after the sides traded kicks through the posts, the visitors grabbed the win thanks to JP Pietersen's late score.
THE KEY MOMENTS
Captain Ben Smith sparked Highlanders second-half rout with a long-range try and Matt Feddes touched down shortly after to leave the match beyond Lions.
Cheetahs had brought the match within four points when Sunwolves were dealt a double blow. First Pisi limped off injured before Edward Quirk was sent to the sin-bin in the 71st minute. The numerical advantage paid immediate dividends as Boom Prinsloo touched down for the winning score a minute later.
"I think you saw Reds were out all game to smash us and put us on back foot. The boys put in a gutsy effort, I couldn't be more proud of them." - Rebels captain Sean McMahon comments after an enthralling win over Reds.
"We knew we were in it the whole game, right until the end there, and it was just our discipline that let us down. I'm really proud of the guys." - Reds skipper Rob Simmons bemoans his side's ill-discipline.
"Once we get over the disappointment of the loss then, absolutely, we'll be really happy with a lot of things." - Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett reflects on an agonising defeat.
"We were feeling quite fresh in the shed [at half-time] and we really wanted to up the ante a little bit around the unstructured part of the game, keep the ball in hand a wee bit more." - Jamie Joseph explains Highlanders' excellent second half.
Cheetahs' first win leaves them sixth in the South African group, which is led by Sharks - just one of two unbeaten teams in Super Rugby. Chiefs are second in the Australasian group, with Highlanders and Rebels in a wildcard position.