The Cell C Sharks ended a fairy tale Currie Cup when we defeated Western Province 17-12 at Newlands in a hugely exciting, tension-filled final to be crowned 2018 champions.
While the players wouldn’t have had revenge in minds, certainly there will be a measure of happiness that the Cell C Sharks did to Province what Province did to us last year – winning on away soil.
They also followed up the Cell C Sharks Under 19s who won their SA Rugby Under 19 Championship final earlier on the day.
The opening period was tense as one would expect, both sides hoping to get in an early score and neither side wanting to concede points, with absorbing pressure the name of the game.
Both sides showed the kind of nerves to be expected of a tournament final, but it was the Cell C Sharks who paid the price first for a mistake that led to a penalty for SP Marais to open the scoring in only the 20th minute of the game.
Earlier the home side had been pushed off their own scrum ball and then lost a lineout, so were having their own woes, in this case, at the vital set-piece occasion which cost them valuable momentum.
Played in sweltering heat, a water break was called at the end of the first quarter with the visitors knowing that they were well in the game, but needing to tighten things up.
Western Province survived a 10 minute period under severe pressure, twice the TMO ruling that possible tries scored first by Thomas du Toit then Jean-Luc du Preez weren’t tries, but they were able to absorb everything we threw at them in a real pressure-cooker of a match.
Province doubled their score to six points following a second successive penalty from SP Marais after we were penalised for bringing down a rolling maul as the first half headed towards its inevitable conclusion.
Province had been let off the hook on a few occasions but we showed stronger attacking prowess, particularly when the forwards were able to keep the phases going and which could stand us in good stead for the second half.
The first try in this intense Currie Cup Final came in the 45th minute, a patient build-up after a great Marius Louw break down the middle with Akker van der Merwe just too strong for the defence. Robert du Preez converted and the Cell C Sharks were in the lead for the first time of the match.
With half an hour remaining, Province retook the lead with a third successful penalty, but then conceded three themselves after a TMO decision ruled for the third time no try to the Cell C Sharks but an earlier infringement gave us the three points and the lead once more.
The next 20 minutes was tension incarnate. We didn’t have a big enough lead but were holding off everything the hosts threw at us.
But with 10 minutes remaining, the most patient of build-ups was finally rewarded, unsung hero and candidate for man of the match for his work rate, Tyler Paul, was driven over. With du Preez’s conversion, we had an eight point lead and the pressure was on Province.
A fourth penalty took Province back within striking distance with five minutes remaining and just five minutes in it. It would take a monumental effort from both teams to either save or overturn the scoreline.
Ultimately, we were too clinical in the final minutes, and having scored two tries and having three efforts denied, were ultimately the better team on the day.