The only PRO14 side to travel to and win in Bloemfontein this season, Glasgow Warriors became the first team to qualify for the playoffs when they clinched a clean sweep of the Cheetahs with a 37-23 victory at Scotstoun Stadium on Friday night.
The result put Glasgow on 65 points after 15 matches, too far ahead of Cardiff (29 points), placed fourth in Conference A, to knock the Warriors out of the top-three finish required to advance to the quarter-finals.
Glasgow looked like scoring first when Nick Grigg broke through the Cheetahs defence in his own 22 and raced clear to halfway, but the South Africans scrambled back to clear the danger.
And the game was soon turned on its head when Glasgow lost the ball on the Cheetahs line, and Malcolm Jaer came away with the ball, showing a turn of pace to score for a 7-0 lead after eight minutes.
Rocked by the score, Glasgow’s pacey winger Nikola Matawalu chose a penetrative line to burst over from 30 metres out to level the scores.
Glasgow fullback Ruaridh Jackson produced a moment of individual magic at the end of the first quarter, chipping ahead, and toeing the ball on again before gathering to score (12-7).
Nine players were unavailable to Warriors coach Dave Rennie because of Scotland commitments, with another nine on the injury list, and their replacements did well to dominate the first half.
Glasgow extended their lead on 34 minutes as flyhalf Adam Hastings nailed a penalty but then a moment of madness from Matawalu allowed the Cheetahs to claw their way back into the game on the stroke of half-time. The creative winger needlessly put up a crossfield kick in his own 22. Glasgow lost the ball over and subsequent Cheetahs pressure led to a Neil Marais penalty.
Marais – making only his fifth start of the season so far – landed a long-range penalty on 45 minutes to pull the Cheetahs to within two points of Glasgow (15-13).
Tighthead prop Siua Halanukonuka ensured Glasgow were rewarded for a period of sustained pressure deep in Cheetahs territory by burrowing over from close range for his first Warriors’ score on 50 minutes, stretching their lead to seven points with their third try of the evening.
Almost immediately Glasgow were penalised at scrum time and Marais knocked over the penalty to bring Cheetahs back into contention at (20-16).
Glasgow secured the bonus-point just before the hour mark as Horne finished off a fantastic flowing move to notch his ninth touchdown of the season and Hastings added the extras.
Clayton Blommetjies reduced the deficit again for the Cheetahs as they refused to lie down, finishing for the visitors in the corner with Marais kicking the conversion to leave the score at 27-23.
But with 15 minutes left to play, Hastings extended Glasgow’s lead with a simple penalty in front of the posts and seconds later the home side scored their fifth try as Henry Pyrgos finished off a long-range score.
Tries: Matawalu, Jackson, Halanukonuka, Horne, Pyrgos
Cons: Hastings (3)
Pens: Hastings (2)
Tries: Jaer, Blommetjies
Cons: Marais (2)
Pens: Marais (3)
Glasgow Warriors: 15 Ruaridh Jackson, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Niko Matawalu, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 George Horne, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Chris Fusaro, 6 Rob Harley, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Tim Swinson, 3 Siua Halanukonuka, 2 James Malcolm, 1 Alex Allan
Replacements: 16 Grant Stewart, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 D’Arcy Rae, 19 Matt Smith, 20 Adam Ashe, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Ratu Tagive
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Craig Barry, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 Nico Lee, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Justin Basson, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Torsten Van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais
Replacements: 16 Jacques Du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Luther Obi
Date: Friday, February 16
Kick-off: 19:35 GMT
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Sean Gallagher (Ireland), Sam Grove-White (Scotland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)