Coach Hawies Fourie’s team held a slender 22-19 lead at the end of the regular 80 minutes of play, despite Dries Swanepoel (centre) receiving a red card for a dangerous clean-out at a ruck in the 72nd minute, but the hosts snuck through for a late try as the opposition conceded a few costly penalties as the clock wound down.
The first half was competitive as both teams tried to use their physicality to gain ascendancy and ran hard on attack, but it was Connacht’s two tries to one by the Toyota Cheetahs that pushed them ahead 14-5 at the break.
The Free Staters fought back strongly after the break with a penalty goal and two tries, which pushed them into the lead with minutes to play, but they paid a heavy price for their ill-discipline as Tom Farrell (replacement centre) scored back-to-back tries for Connacht to steer them a two-point victory.
Connacht winger Niyi Adeolokun opened up the scoring in the 15th minute as he used his pace to break through two defenders out wide, and the Toyota Cheetahs responded with some enterprising play, which they later capitalised on with Joseph Dweba (hooker) touching down from an effective rolling maul.
The visitors broke through the defence on a few more occasions as the half progressed, but mistakes at crucial times and passes under pressure which didn’t stick, cost them from converting these chances into points.
Connacht, in turn, continued to make the most of their chances with Kieran Marmion (scrumhalf) touching down for their second try two minutes before halftime following a powerful break by Adeolokun, whose slick pass put him into space, and the conversion saw them take a 14-5 lead.
Toyota Cheetahs captain and scrumhalf, Ruan Pienaar, reduced their deficit on the scoreboard to six points six minutes after play resumed as he slotted over a penalty goal and they backed this up with a stunning try by Rhyno Smith (fullback), who gathered the ball and stepped on the gas to get through the defence. The successful conversion by Pienaar pushed the visitors into the lead for the first time in the game.
The Toyota Cheetahs added their third try early in the fourth quarter as Clayton Blommetjies (winger) broke through the defence thanks to a good running line on attack, which saw them take an encouraging 22-14 lead.
But the Free Staters were dealt a big blow with nine minutes to play as Swanepoel received a red card for a dangerous clean-out at a ruck, and Connacht capitalised on this immediately with Farrell breaking through from a rolling maul, which reduced their deficit to three points.
Farrell proved to be the hero of the match for the home side minutes later as he gathered the ball out wide after they were awarded a late penalty and forced his way over the chalk for the bonus-point 24-22 victory.
Connacht 24 (14) – Tries: Niyi Adeolokun, Kieran Marmion, Tom Farrell (2). Conversions: Conor Fitzgerald (2).
Toyota Cheetahs 22 (5) – Tries: Joseph Dweba, Rhyno Smith, Clayton Blommetjies. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (2). Penalty Goal: Ruan Pienaar.