The Cats salvaged something from their wreckage of a season when they beat the Blues 34-33 at Ellis Park on Saturday night, after leading 20-14 at the break.
The Jo’burg franchise withstood a late Blues fightback that almost saw them surrender a 34-19 lead in a frantic final three minutes.
The shock victory moves the Cats back into 13th position on the Vodacom Super 14 log, just hours after the Force had pulled themselves off the bottom by beating the Cheetahs. With the Force playing the Sharks in Durban next weekend, the Cats have probably avoided the wooden spoon.
This was definitely one of the Cats’ better performances, although the Blues were woeful apart from a three-minute patch before half-time when they scored two tries and the last three minutes of the second half when they ran in another two.
Jaque Fourie produced his best effort of the season, scoring a memorable hat-trick, while Ernst Joubert had another blinder at No 8. Andre Pretorius missed a couple of crucial tackles, but his goal-kicking was spot on and he directed the Cats backline superbly. He was well supported by man-of-the-match Jaco Vermaak, who scored a try and set up another two.
Pretorius opened the scoring with a penalty goal, before booting another penalty into touch deep inside the Blues 22. Trevor Hall won the line-out and the Cats drove up to within two metres of the tryline, before sending it wide to Wayne Julies whose perfectly-timed pass put Jaque Fourie away under the posts. Pretorius converted to give the Cats a 10-point lead after just six minutes.
The home side almost scored again when Earl Rose broke down the left-hand side and kicked ahead for Wylie Human, who knocked on when trying to ground the ball. Luke McAlister had provided the cross defence and his presence forced Human to dive slightly earlier that he would have otherwise.
Pretorius’s first penalty of the night made it 13-0 as the Blues struggled to get into the game. Seven missed tackles in the first 15 minutes must have had coach David Nucifora tearing his hair out, and to make matters worse, McAlister’s first penalty attempt sailed wide of the right-hand upright.
The Cats doubled their lead 10 minutes before half-time when Vermaak weaved his way through the Blues defence and reached over to ground the ball on the tryline. The TV referee confirmed the score and Pretorius’s conversion made it 20-0.
The Blues’ blunders continued when Joe Rokocoko ran down the left-hand touchline, only to chip the ball straight into the hands of Rose. They then tapped a kickable penalty and captain Kevin Mealamu came within metres of the tryline. However, the Cats drove the Blues back and were awarded the scrum.
The New Zealanders finally got their act together two minutes before half-time when McAlister stepped past Pretorius and found Isa Nacewa, who shrugged off a pathetic tackle from Cobus Grobler to race over next to the posts.
Worse was to follow when McAlister broke through after the half-time hooter and offloaded to replacement centre Anthony Tuitavake, who sidestepped six clueless Cats defenders on his way to the tryline. McAlister converted again, and at 20-14 the Blues were right back in the game.
Pretorius missed a penalty attempt soon after the break, before Vermaak went blind from a ruck and stabbed a kick ahead for Fourie down the left-hand touchline. The Bok centre won the race to the ball and the try was awarded after another consulation with the TV referee. Pretorius nailed the conversion to make it 27-14.
The Blues continued to make unforced errors and it was a botched line-out that saw the Cats restore their 20-point lead. Mealamu’s throw sailed over the forwards and the Cats sent the ball went wide to Fourie who dummied two defenders before scoring his third try.
This setback prompted the Blues to attack from everywhere on the field and they hit back with a try from fullback Brent Ward, after an outrageous dummy from prop John Afoa sent Rose the wrong way. Nacewa’s conversion missed the mark and the Cats led 34-19.
Only a desperate cover tackle from Human prevented Afoa from scoring himself in the right-hand corner with 10 minutes remaining, before replacement Kurtis Haiu finally crashed over for the Blues bonus-point try on the 77-minute mark.
Howlett then went over from the restart to reduce the deficit to one point and set up a thrilling finale. However, the Cats hung on for their second victory of the season â€“ one that may save the coaching career of Frans Ludeke.
Cats – Tries: Jaque Fourie (3), Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Andre Pretorius (4). Penalties: Pretorius (2).
Blues – Tries: Isa Nacewa, Anthony Tuitavake, Brent Ward, Kurtis Haiu, Doug Howlett. Conversions: Luke McAlister (2), Isa Nacewa (2).
By Simon Borchardt
78min – Howlett races over for another try. Nacewa converts.
77min – Haiu scores the Blues bonus point try. Nacewa converts.
60min – Afoa’s dummy fools Rose and Ward scores for the Blues. Nacewa misses the conversion.
56min – The Blues botch a line-out and the Cats spread the ball wide to Fourie who throws the dummy and scores his third try in the corner. Pretorius converts.
55min – Pretorius’s 55m penalty attempts goes left of the uprights.
44min – Vermaak goes blind and sends a grubber through for Fourie who scores the try. Pretorius converts from the touchline.
42min – Pretorius misses a penalty attempt.
40min – Tuitavake sidesteps his way through six Cats defenders to score after the half-time hooter. McAlister converts.
37min – McAlister shrugs off a pathetic tackle from Grobler and finds Nacewa who scores under the posts. McAlister converts.
28min – Vermaak breaks through the Blues defence and reaches out to score the try. Pretorius converts.
21min – Play is held up for five minutes as Kleinjan Tromp is carried off on a stretcher. He is moving through, looks like a precaution.
20min – McAlister misses his first penalty attempt.
15min – Pretorius extends the Cats lead with his first penalty.
10min – Rose kicks ahead for Human who knocks on over the tryline.
6min – Cats kick a penalty into touch and win the line-out. Ball goes wide to Julies who times his pass perfectly to Fourie who scores under the posts. Pretorius converts.
3min – Woodcock caught offsides and Pretorius makes no mistake with the penalty from 40m out.
Cats: Earl Rose; Conrad Jantjes, Jaque Fourie, Wayne Julies, Wylie Human; AndrÃ© Pretorius, Jano Vermaak, Ernst Joubert, Trevor Hall, Baywatch Grobbelaar, Willem Stoltz, KleinJan Tromp, Bertus Smit, Delarey du Preez, Lawrence Sephaka.
Reserves: Willie Wepener, Pietman van Niekerk, Alten Hulme, Gerhard Vosloo, Enrico Januarie, Doppies la Grange, Grant Esterhuizen.
Blues: Brent Ward; Doug Howlett, Ben Atiga, Isa Nacewa, Joe Rokocoko; Luke McAlister, Junior Poluleuligaga, Nick Williams, Jerome Kaino, Anthony Boric, Greg Rawlinson, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (c), Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Tim Dow, Saimone Taumoepeau, Ali Williams, Kurtis Haiu, John Senio, Tasesa Lavea, Anthony Tuitavake