It was double heartbreak for the South African Guinness PRO14 sides on Saturday as a last-gasp try by Irish outfit Connacht ended the Toyota Cheetahs unbeaten run, while the Isuzu Southern Kings went down fighting against Italian side Benetton.
The Toyota Cheetahs were 22-14 ahead against Connacht in Galway with minutes to play, but a red card to Dries Swanepoel (centre) and a few costly penalties conceded saw Tom Farrell (Connacht replacement centre) score two late tries to secure the hosts a 24-22 victory.
The Isuzu Southern Kings, in turn, produced a strong second-half showing against Benetton in Treviso, but three late tries were not enough as they went down 36-30.
“It’s tough for any team to lose like that and unfortunately it was our turn tonight,” said Toyota Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie. “I felt we were a bit soft in the first half. We didn’t play that well and conceded too many penalties, while we had three line breaks that we didn’t convert.
“Our attack was a lot better in the second half and I felt that we deserved to win it, but unfortunately it didn’t go our way.”
Toyota Cheetahs captain Ruan Pienaar admitted they struggled with the conditions in the first half.
“We knew it would be a big challenge for us, and we knew the conditions would be very different,” said Pienaar. “We were blessed to play the Currie Cup and our first three games in dry conditions, especially since we play expansive game of rugby.
“We worked hard this week and I thought we controlled the game well in that second half, especially against a strong wind, and we were in it for 80 minutes. So it was tough to lose like that at the end.”
In Treviso, the Isuzu Southern Kings were in the game until a try either side of halftime caused a slump and saw them fall 36-9 behind, but three tries in the last quarter saw them fight back to a respectable 36-30 defeat.
However, they lost kingpin and flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis to injury in the process, with the extent of his injury still to be determined.
Coach Robbi Kempson was not happy with the performance, and he hinted that a number of the younger players could get an opportunity in their next game against Glasgow Warriors.
“I’m disappointed,” said Kempson. “We made a lot of individual errors, and a lot of what we spoke about at halftime they didn’t do in the second half.
“From a team perspective we are losing out because of those individual errors. We are creating opportunities but we aren’t converting them.”
The coach admitted Catrakilis’ injury could be a big loss for the side.
“Demetri is huge for us,” said Kempson. “He is going for X-rays, and we will hope for the best.”
He added: “We finished the game with a lot of youngsters on the field that really produced the last three tries, and for our next game against Glasgow, the youngsters will certainly get an opportunity.”