Pro14: Cheetahs 26-25 Connacht
|Cheetahs (16) 26|
|Tries: Cassiem, Maxwane Cons: N Marais 2 Pens: N Marais 4|
|Connacht (15) 25|
|Tries: Healy 2, Griffin Cons: Carty 2 Pens: Carty 2|
Connacht have lost further ground in the Conference A play-off race after a last-gasp defeat by Cheetahs.
Fly-half Niel Marais landed a 79th-minute penalty as Cheetahs snatched victory in Bloemfontein.
After a sluggish start, two tries by Matt Healy and another by Eoin Griffin put Connacht on the cusp of victory.
But tries by Uzair Cassiem and substitute Sibhale Maxwane kept the home side in contention right up to the dramatic final intervention by Marais.
It was a disastrous result for Connacht on their first visit to South Africa and leaves Kieran Keane's side five points adrift of Cardiff Blues and just two ahead of Ospreys, with both Welsh teams having played a game less in Conference A.
The win for Cheetahs means they retain a realistic chance of catching Munster in the battle for second place in the conference standings.
In sweltering conditions, the home side charged into an early lead as number eight Cassiem picked off the base of a ruck and jogged over untouched.
Fly-half Marais converted and added another penalty as the South African side raced into a 10-0 lead.
Connacht responded with the first of Healy's tries as Caoilin Blade and Tiernan O'Halloran combined to put the winger over in the corner for a score converted by Jack Carty.
Marais punished a Connacht offside with another penalty to push his team back into a six-point advantage before Healy crossed for his second score.
The Irish international again finished in the left corner after quick hands by Carty and O'Halloran sent him clear.
Carty missed the conversion, which would have put the visitors ahead, but the fly-half made amends just before half-time with a huge penalty from inside his own half to cut the gap to a single point at the interval.
Connacht made a blistering start to the second half and deservedly took the lead for the first time when Carty slotted a penalty from in front of the posts.
The visitors continued to dominate and increased their lead in the 58th minute with a superbly-worked try for Griffin after going through 10 phases in the Cheetahs' half.
The response was devastating as Cheetahs won a muscular turnover in the opposition 22 before dragging the Connacht defence out of position and creating the space for Maxwane to touch down.
Connacht started to visibly tire in the final quarter as the energy-sapping conditions and the high altitude began to take its toll.
The home side found another gear and their scrum won a late penalty to allow them back into the Connacht half before a lineout maul forced the decisive penalty of the game, which Marais calmly knocked over with just seconds to spare.
Cheetahs: Clayton Blommetjies; Craig Barry, Francois Venter (capt), Nico Lee, Luther Obi; Niel Marais, Zee Mkhabela; Ox Nche, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Aranos Coetzee; Justin Basson, Reniel Hugo; Paul Schoeman, Henco Venter, Uzair Cassiem.
Replacements: Jacques du Toit (van Jaarsveld, 69), Charles Marais (Nche, 48), Tom Botha (Coetzee, 54), Renier Bernardo (Hugo, 58) Oupa Mohoje (H Venter, 54), Tian Meyer (Mkhabela, 54), Fred Zeilinga, Sibhale Maxwane (Obi, 18).
Connacht: Tiernan O'Halloran, Cian Kelleher, Eoin Griffin, Pita Ahki, Matt Healy, Jack Carty, Caolin Blade, (1-8) Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham, Ultan Dillane, James Cannon, Sean O'Brien, Jarrad Butler, John Muldoon (capt).
Replacements: Shane Delahunt (McCartney, 74), Denis Coulson, Dominic Robertson McCoy (Bealham, 48), Gavin Thornbury (Cannon, 50), Eoghan Masterson (Dillane, 70), James Mitchell (Blade, 74), Craig Ronaldson (Ahki, 74), Niyi Adeolokun (Kelleher, 55).