Cheetahs progress to Euro playoffs

The Bloemfontein outfit secured a spot in the playoffs despite defeat.

The Cheetahs qualified for the last 16 of the Challenge Cup despite an early red card for Munier Hartzenberg in a last-gasp defeat to Oyonnax in France on Saturday.

Leading 27-21 with 80 minutes up on the clock, a late converted Oyonnax try for prop Adrien Bordenave after almost 10 minutes of additional time saw the Cheetahs go down 28-27 at the Stade Charles-Mathon.

Hooker Marnus van der Merwe notched up a brace of tries and scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar scored 12 points as the Freestaters looked set to clinch a memorable win despite the dismissal of winger Hartzenberg before the close of the first quarter.

But, the Bloemfontein outfit progressed to the knockout stage for the second successive season having secured third spot in Pool 1 ahead of the final group match between the Sharks and Dragons on Sunday.

Quick start

The Cheetahs started fast with a try from Hartzenberg, but the left winger went from hero to villain when he initially earned 10 minutes in the naughty chair for taking the man out in the air, only for his dismissal to be upgraded to red following a TMO review.

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Despite down to 13 men with No 14 Daniel Kasende in the sin bin for a similar offence, the Cheetahs held a 19-point lead after 20 minutes thanks to a try and two conversions from Pienaar, plus a score from Van der Merwe.

Pienaar split the uprights from the kicking tee before the break, either side of converted tries for Oyonnax No 8 Loic Godener and openside flanker Filimo Taofifenua, but Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie will have been pulling his hair out despite a 22-14 half-time lead as skipper Victor Sekekete, too, saw yellow for an accumulation of team infringements.

Van der Merwe’s second try of the match opened the second half scoring before the hosts replied after the 60-minute mark with a try from outside back David Odiase. Replacement Jules Soulan added the extras to cut the deficit to six points.

Two overturned tries by the TMO for both teams as well as a Pienaar drop-kick attempt hitting the upright encapsulated the late drama in chilly France, before Bordenave’s score and Soulan’s conversion at the death.

This story was first published on It is republished here with permission.

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