A poor all-round performance from the Cheetahs saw the Highlanders win 31-24 in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The hosts were expected to record their first back-to-back wins in Super Rugby since rejoining the competition in 2006, against a Landers side that lost their two opening matches.
However, ill-discipline and poor defence cost the Cheetahs dearly. They conceded far too many penalties in kickable positions, and were often found wanting in defence. Even on the offensive, they were ineffective and guilty of poor handling, and it was only the individual brilliance of Heinrich Brussow and Juan Smith that saw them cross the whitewash twice.
The Landers took full advantage of the home team’s defensive frailties in the early stages of the first stanza, creating gaps in the defence through switch passes.
After an early Naas Olivier penalty, Highlanders pivot Michael Hobbs made the initial break which saw outside centre Kendrick Lynn dive over for the opening try.
The Cheetahs organised their defensive lines thereafter and placed more emphasis on attack. They gained momentum with ball in hand but poor handling prevented them from converting their try-scoring opportunities.
Hooker Adriaan Strauss ran into space out wide, but lost the ball in contact which gifted wing Fetu’u Vainikolowith a 60m runaway try. Olivier and Hobbs then traded penalties to give the Highlanders a 15-9 lead at the break.
The Cheetahs hit back in the third quarter through Brussow to reduce the gap to two points, but a third penalty from Israel Dagg and a late try by Hobbs secured the Landers their first win of the season, despite Smith touching down with three minutes to go.
By Gareth Duncan