Another epic Chiefs comeback ends in draw
The Chiefs have produced another remarkable second-half comeback for their second successive Super Rugby bonus-point draw in South Africa.
A Tim Nanai-Williams try between the posts over a minute after the fulltime siren and a regulation Aaron Cruden conversion grabbed the 43-43 draw against the bottom-placed Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this morning (NZ time).
The New Zealand Conference leaders came from 34-10 down at halftime to outscore the home side at Free State Stadium 33-9 in the second half, scoring six tries to four in the match and five tries to none in the second stanza.
The Chiefs claimed three points with the result to take them to 20 points overall - third on the competition table and well ahead in the Kiwi conference.
The Chiefs played the first half like possums caught in the headlights, unable to do much right in the face of an audacious Cheetahs team that ran the ball effectively from all parts of the field.
The home side had a bonus point before halftime as a result and led by the daunting score of 34-10 at the changeover.
The Chiefs struggled to get their hands on the ball and when they did they often turned it over through a comedy of errors.
Star of the half was the quicksilver Cheetahs halfback Sarel Pretorius, who scored two of the home team's four tries and thrived on their wide running game.
He got the first one when the home side swept downfield with quick ruck ball and great support play, Pretorius throwing a big dummy at the final ruck to score.
Johan Goosen converted and while Aaron Cruden got the Chiefs on the board soon after with a penalty goal after a Tom Marshall breakout, but then Cheetahs second-five Rayno Benjamin replied quickly with a fortuitous try from what looked like a forward pass from centre Willie Le Roux.
Goosen kicked the hosts out to 17-3 before halfback Augustine Pulu got the Chiefs' first try when a penalty gave them an attacking lineout and they finally held onto the ball in the ensuing forward attacks led by flanker Mike Fitzgerald.
At 17-10 the Chiefs were back in the game on the scoreboard at least but again Pretorius struck with a huge scrum break running wide and then catching the visitors out with a quick tapped penalty try as the Chiefs argued over a penalty from the resulting 5m scrum.
Three minutes later and just over two minutes from halftime the Cheetahs had their bonus point when they kicked a penalty to the left corner and drove the lineout for flanker Boom Prinsloo to score, Goosen's conversion making it 34-10 at the break.
Sixteen missed tackles and just 38 per cent of possession told the story of the first spell for the Chiefs and things continued to go against them despite a better start and Benjamin held Pulu up over the line to deny him his second try.
But the back-to-back champions continued to press home the attack from a dominant field position and again Pulu was in the action, scoring his second pick-and-go try in the 11th minute of the half after Marshall spearheaded the attack.
Cruden's conversion narrowed the deficit to 17 points but it was quickly back out to 20 through Goosen's long-range boot.
The Chiefs changed both their props, bringing on Jamie Mackintosh and Josh Hohneck, as well as bringing on experience in the form of Mils Muliaina and Tanerau Latimer, and quickly they got back in the game with with two quick tries to Tim Nanai-Williams and Asaeli Tikoirotuma for their own bonus point and the deficit back to eight points at 37-29.
Cruden missed a penalty chance to reduce that gap further, but he then kicked his team back onto attack deep in the Cheetahs' 22.
It proved vital as the Chiefs' attack grew enormously in confidence and a brilliant team try to Tikoirotuma, which featured slick passing, took the Chiefs within one point of the home side at 37-36.
The Chiefs' momentum was interrupted by a Goosen penalty goal but at 40-36 the Chiefs had outscored the Cheetahs 26-6 for the half.
But six minutes later a scrum penalty enabled Goosen to open the gap further to seven points and immediately Mackintosh conceded a tackle penalty that enabled the Cheetahs to set up a lineout and dominate possession to the end.
But suddenly back-to-back penalties to the Chiefs gave them one last chance to force a draw after the final hooter.
They swept downfield, patiently building through the forwards as they got near the try line and then it went wide and finally Nanai-Williams danced through between the posts for his second try and the chance for Cruden to tie the scores with his conversion, which he duly did.
Cheetahs 43 (Sarel Pretorius 2, Rayno Benjamin, Boom Prinsloo tries; Johan Goosen 4 cons, 5 pens) Chiefs 43 (Augustine Pulu 2, Asaeli Tikoirotuma 2, Tim Nanai-Williams 2 tries; Aaron Cruden 5 cons, pen). HT: 34-10