Danny Wilson has expressed his pride at the determination and spirit of Cardiff Blues after they fell to an agonising injury-time defeat to Toyota Cheetahs.
It appeared as though the Blues would record an ninth straight victory after battling back from a 16-point deficit to lead thanks to tries from Owen Lane, Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo.
But the Cheetahs fought back and were awarded a controversial penalty try in the 88th minute of injury time to leave the Blues with just a losing bonus-point.
Wilson was bitterly disappointed with the result but was immensely proud of his side, who endured a nightmare 55-hour journey to Bloemfontein.
He said: “To be brutally honest I don’t think it was one of our better first half performances but it was very understanding considering what the players have gone through in the last three or four days.
“It’s extremely tough that we’ve come here and had to play the game after what we’ve had to deal with. We have had one training session this week and in the first half it looked like that.
“The boys haven’t been able to get out and even have the chance to run since travelling so I am extremely proud of the second-half performance, I thought they were outstanding and to find the energy, that level of work ethic after what they have gone through is a huge credit to them and I’m extremely proud to be involved.
“(In the first-half we lacked a bit of energy, we looked heavy legged and we were losing races to contact areas on both sides of the ball, our lineout wasn’t functioning in the first-half which isn’t like us so we looked rusty and needed to get back our composure.
“We focused on the first three phases after set-piece both in attack and defence and when we got that right we looked far better.
“It’s a tough day, a tough loss but all I can say is I’m extremely proud of the effort.”
The defeat was a major blow to the Blues play-off hopes but the number one focus is remaining in a Champions Cup spot and holding off the challenge of the Ospreys.
With two PRO14 games remaining, the Blues are still eight points ahead of their Welsh rivals and face the Southern Kings next.
Wilson added: “We need to qualify for the champions Cup, there’s still games for us to win and there’s still games for the Cheetahs to possibly lose.
“We all knew the importance of today in terms of staying in touch with the play-offs but we still have a huge amount to play for and a semi-final in the European Challenge Cup, which is also extremely high on our agenda.”