Cheetahs best Kings in Super Rugby finale

Super Rugby

Central Cheetahs turned a 14-point deficit into a 21-20 away victory over Southern Kings Friday in the final Super Rugby match for both South African teams.

The southern hemisphere competition is being reduced from 18 sides to 15 next season with the Cheetahs, Kings and the Melbourne Rebels or Western Force from Australia dropping out.

The Cheetahs from Bloemfontein and the Kings from Port Elizabeth are set to compete instead in an expanded Pro 12 competition that features Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.

Cheetahs and Kings became the casualties among the six South African Super Rugby teams because they had the poorest overall playing records and lowest average attendances.

The new format includes five New Zealand sides, four from Australia and South Africa and one from Argentina and Japan, whose Sunwolves were crushed 94-7 in Johannesburg two weekends ago.

The Cheetahs and Kings will not be in Super Rugby in 2018. Photo: Getty ImagesSuper Rugby officials decided on the cull after admitting that the competition -- extended from 15 teams to 18 only last season -- was losing appeal.

A format that did not reward the most successful sides was among the reasons for dwindling crowds and shrinking television audiences.

Cheetahs lie second in one Africa pool with 21 points while the Kings completed their season with 28 points yet ended last in the other Africa section.

Even more bizarre is the Auckland Blues of New Zealand accumulating 37 points with one match to play and failing to reach the quarter-finals.

ACT Brumbies have 34 points in the Australia conference and, whatever the outcome of their final league match, are guaranteed a home quarter-final.

"With 20 minutes left there was a break in play and I told the boys to give their all and fight to the final whistle," said Cheetahs skipper and centre Francois Venter.

"While we are obviously sad to leave Super Rugby, our probable participation in the Pro 12 offers a great opportunity and a difference challenge."

Lionel Cronje says this is just the beginning for his team. Photo: Getty ImagesKings skipper and fly-half Lionel Cronje was proud despite the disappointment of bowing out with a home defeat.

"We have had a phenomenal season, winning six matches, with the victory over former champions the Waratahs in Australia particularly memorable as it marked a turning point.

"Playing Super Rugby with these boys week after week has been an absolute pleasure and I thoroughly enjoyed our ball-in-hand approach whenever it was possible."

Cheetahs beating Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium was a surprise as they lost their previous seven games while their opponents had won five of the past seven.

After leading 12-3 at half-time, the home team extended the advantage to 14 points with 12 minutes remaining.

But a Cheetahs side notorious for throwing away big leads, took control in the closing stages thanks to cleverly timed substitutions and scrum and line-out dominance.

Tries by centre Clinton Swart and Ghana-born Springboks winger Raymond Rhule, one of which substitute fly-half Niel Marais converted, trimmed Kings' lead to just two points.

And when the home side were caught offside close to their posts five minutes from time, Marais kicked the penalty that brought his team only their fourth win of the season.