Heartbreak in Hamilton

The Chiefs fought back from a deficit and a man down on Saturday to defeat the Cell C Sharks 29-23 in a pulsating clash in the final Vodacom Super Rugby match on tour where the lead changed hands a number of times.

Both sides were coming off rare draws last week, both looking to pull off wins, but for differing reasons. The Chiefs haven’t enjoyed the kind of season they would hope for while the Cell C Sharks were aiming to end our three match tour unbeaten.

There was some early pressure to absorb as the Chiefs tried to attack inside our half, but defence continues to be a strong point for the Cell C Sharks as we managed to hold out under the threat. Two poached lineouts halted the home team’s best intentions, but a third lineout was successful and took them into our half. The continued to hammer away without reward before finally earning a penalty from 40m out. With the knowledge that their attack was continually being thwarted, they opted to kick for the early three point lead.

Despite the solitary penalty to the hosts in the opening quarter, it was all Sharks play as the backs enjoyed some space to attack, with Curwin Bosch sparking a number of exciting efforts. But frustratingly, all the opportunities weren’t being closed out despite some outstanding phase play mixed with individual x-factor magic.

The Chiefs finally showed how dangerous they can be on attack with a good build-up catching the defence out for a try under the posts and the conversion taking them into a 10-nil lead, despite having been starved of possession.

It took until the 30th minute before Curwin Bosch got us onto the scoreboard, a penalty after the Chiefs had infringed at the tackle. Not 30 seconds later, Hyron Andrews galloped 40m down the touchline after the Chiefs had failed to field a high ball and Sbu Nkosi followed up, secured the loose ball and fed his lanky lock who showed a clean pair of heels to the tryline. Bosch’s conversion levelled matters at 10 points apiece.

The action continued abated, this time the Chiefs kicking a penalty to touch then a fast-paced attack from the lineout gaining the second try, converted for a seven point lead with five minutes left on the clock.

A second Bosch penalty just before half-time reduced the deficit to four points, the Chiefs leading 17-13 at the break.

All the promise finally came to bear as the cell C Sharks finally took the lead in the 56th minute after threatening all half, Ruan Botha managing to stretch his arm to dot down on the line for a TMO referred effort. Bosch converted for a 20-17 lead.

Crucially, the Chiefs had lost man to the sin bin a minute earlier after Makazole Mapimpi had managed to hack the ball ahead and regather, only to be cynically held on the ground. Before this stage, the penalty count was four apiece, but the Chiefs were starting to lose discipline and conceded five penalties in a row. The last sent through the posts as Bosch continued his 100% kicking record.

The Chiefs had to work hard for the next score, taking the ball through 16 phases in a patient build-up that was finally rewarded with just over 10 minutes of the match remaining. MacKenzie missed the conversion as his side trailed by a solitary point and the result not yet sewn up.

From the kick-off, the Chiefs secured the ball and managed to break through the middle and score another try less than a minute later to show how the momentum can shift. At 29-23, the home side were in control on the scoreboard but there were still nearly 10 minutes remaining and everything to play for.

The Chiefs just had to close the game out with the forwards retaining possession as the clock wound down but the ball was stolen on the stoke of full-time. But with the game still in play, we took the ball through 18 phases of patient build-up before finally breaking down with the tryline in sight and the result over.

“We’re obviously disappointed,” said captain Louis Schreduer after the match. “We were in it at 23-17 up but two line breaks that led to two tries killed us, the Chiefs are a quality team and small mistakes cost us. We managed well in the first half and some of the second half before letting it slip. It’s been an amazing tour for us , three epic games against excellent teams.”