A try-scoring double from Wallabies winger Dane Haylett-Petty put them back within striking distance, but the Western Force let a third win of the season slip away, losing 30-29 to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Replacement flyhalf Peter Grant horribly shanked an 80th-minute penalty attempt to win the game, and the Force then put 23 phases together after the final siren, only to cough up possession and allow the home side to put the ball into touch.
After Israel Folau enjoyed another day out at outside centre in the Waratahs' big win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo, the exceptional game of Wallabies teammate Haylett-Petty at fullback for the Force will ensure discussions only intensify on whether Folau should wear the gold no.13 jersey.
Haylett-Petty was the standout player on the field, running for 209 metres, scoring an outstanding individual try in the 50th minute after a quick lineout throw sixty metres out, and crossing 15 minutes later from a scrum set play that put the Force well within sight of the win.
Two Peter Grant penalties saw the Force take the lead for the first time with seven minutes to play, only to lose the lead again with three minutes on the clock.
"Just for us in the first half, it was a bit inaccurate," Haylett-Petty said, as he collected their man of the match award.
"Credit to the Cheetahs, they really ran us around and got us blowing. We came out firing in that second half and tried to claw our way back, but you just can't come back from 17 points down.
"We just let them have too many easy turnovers in that first half and that forced us to defend for too long. We held onto the ball in the second half for longer passages, and were able to score some points.
"It was heartbreaking, Haylett-Petty said of losing the ball deep in the Cheetahs' half on the final play. You can't fault the effort, the boys put everything in there at the end, but we just couldn't quite take it."
The Force were rocked by the late withdrawal of Wallabies lock Adam Coleman shortly before kick-off, and the Cheetahs enjoyed ascendancy from the first scrum set piece of the night, only further magnified when the Western Australians lost prop Tetera Faulkner after twenty minutes.
Defence was the major issue in the first half, where the Force conceded four tries and a 27-10 scoreline as the teams went to the sheds. The Force missed 17 tackles in the first forty, and the Cheetahs enjoyed nine clean breaks, lining up at times to score the try.
In his 50 th match for the Perth franchise, Kyle Godwin said to be one of many players leaving seasons end scored the only Force try of the opening stanza.