An impressive Cell C Sharks team narrowly lost to the Hurricanes in Napier in New Zealand in quite the most dramatic fashion as they went down 38-37 in a pulsating Vodacom Super Rugby clash in Napier on Friday morning in the final of four tour matches before returning to Durban.
A brave, committed effort sadly couldn’t ensure a win that, for much of the game, looked to be ours but for a thrilling finale that saw the Hurricanes come back at the death.
Away from their usual home ground, the Hurricanes were under pressure early in the game and Robert du Preez, scorer of 38 points last week, was accurate with the boot as early as the fifth minute of the game with a penalty for off-sides.
But that didn’t stop the New Zealanders in their tracks and after kicking a penalty to touch, the ball was spread wide for the opening try of the game in the eighth minute. The conversion was wide and the lead was just two points.
But they extended that to nine points when we conceded a penalty, having put good pressure on the Hurricanes. They kicked the penalty upfield and attacked from the lineout with a good build-up to the second try.
Things might have looked a bit worrying, but another strong build-up finally led to a try, Lukhanyo Am’s effort referred to the TMO and he was happy with the grounding. Du Preez maintained his outstanding kicking form (at 90% this season) as he converted from out wide and it was a two point game after the fist quarter.
With our tails up and confidence already high, Andre Esterhuizen made a break bust through the middle from a lineout, setting up Philip van der Walt who then handed the ball to Lwazi Mvovo who was held up millimetres short of the tryline.
However, the scrum was solid and Louis Schreuder managed to take the ball and burst over for the second try and a five point lead with 13 minutes of the half remaining.
However, the Hurricanes attacked off turnover ball and in end-to-end stuff, scored their second try, a runaway effort that with the conversion under the posts, allowed them to retake the lead on the half hour.
Like last week, when points were on offer, a penalty was sent over the posts as the lead once more changed hands as we hit the front by one point.
Am doubled his exploits as a wonderful effort down the touchline took us into the strike zone and again the TMO was called to adjudicate and he was happy with the grounding, despite the centre taking an arm to the head in the process. Another two points pushed us eight points into the lead with half-time beckoning.
There was an opportunity to extend the lead but for some pressured defence from the home side when their structure was disorganised and could have been punished, but we had managed to take command of the game with a 27-19 half-time lead.
The home side put the first points on the board in the second half with a penalty for offsides and then added another with half an hour’s play remaining to reduce our lead to just two points. Du Preez cancelled out the second penalty with another one of his own followed sustained pressure around the Hurricanes’ 22
Our confidence renewed, we attacked with venom once more following pressure on the Hurricanes and forcing yet another uncharacteristic error from the top side in New Zealand. The ball was taken over the line, but ruled held-up.
The second half, reduced to a tryless period, had been contested in the battle of the boot with the Hurricanes forced to chase a try and regularly booting penalties to the corner, but failing under the pressure we exerted on defence.
With less than 10 minutes to go West sent a penalty through the posts, sensing the effects of that elusive try. That try came, our way, as Curwin Bosch danced his way 40m upfield with a beautiful run to set up a forward driving try. Du Preez hadn’t taken off his golden boots and the conversion was good, giving us a nine point lead and hopefully not enough time for the Hurricanes to come back.
They hammered away at our line, without luck, and with just over two minutes remaining, kicked a penalty to make it an interesting finale to a quite outstanding match.
With four minutes of extra time played and the Hurricanes a man up, the inevitable space out wide opened up for the final try. It all came down to the conversion and West made sure of the victory.