Cape Town - Three tries inside the final five minutes saw the Highlanders defeat the Cheetahs 45-41 in their Super Rugby clash in Bloemfontein on Friday night.
The Cheetahs had led 41-24 with five minutes remaining, only to concede three tries to lose an epic encounter in which both teams scored six tries.
The Cheetahs went into the half-time break 15-10 ahead and looked set to claim an upset win, but when flank Uzair Cassiem was yellow-carded in the final 10 minutes, the hosts capitulated.
When prop Ox Nche crashed over to put the Cheetahs past the 40-point barrier in the 60th minute, the match appeared out of the Highlanders’ reach.
The scoreline went unchanged for the next 15 minutes, before quickfire tries from Tevita Li and Matt Faddes gave the Highlanders hope and the Cheetahs nightmare came true when Waisake Naholo dotted down after the hooter.
The Cheetahs can take heart from bossing the game for large parts, but will rue lacking composure when it really mattered at the death.
There was also some consolation for Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule, who was named man-of-the-match.
In next weekend's action, the Cheetahs travel to New Zealand to duel the Blues in Auckland, while the Highlanders will face the Bulls in Pretoria.
Tries: Tian Meyer (2), Sergeal Petersen, Torsten Van Jaarsveld, Oupa Mohoje, Ox Nche
Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (4)
Tries: Marty Banks, Rob Thompson, Waisake Naholo (2), Tevita Li, Matt Faddes
Conversions: Banks (6)
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Elandre Huggett,17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Niell Jordaan, 22 Shaun Venter, 23 Niel Marais
15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Substitutes: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Richard Buckman