The Cell C Sharks suffered a narrow 35 – 32 defeat against the Southern Kings at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday night, a match in which both teams exchanged the lead on several occasions.
There’s nothing like a local derby to pump energy into a game and there was plenty of that in what was a high tempo and thoroughly enthralling and entertaining clash.
The Kings started off enjoying some quality possession and showed their intention to play high paced rugby, and given the fantastic conditions, it was a ploy that brought early dividends. They were rewarded with a penalty in the second minute, with former Cell C Sharks flyhalf Lionel Cronje kicking a 48m effort to get the scoring underway.
Not four minutes later and the Kings had the first try, taking a quick lineout deep in our half and Lionel Cronje sending a pin-point cross kick over to the wing, with Alshaun Bock making no mistake in the corner. The conversion was wide, but the home side held a commanding 8-nil lead and certainly had their tails in the air.
It took a few minutes more and a very productive attack from the Cell C Sharks before the Kings were penalised in front of the their posts and captain Pat Lambie, back in the starting side for the first time since week three, converted easily.
Another strong attacking build-up five minutes later led to a kickable penalty which Lambie had no difficulty converting and there was just two points between the teams.
The Kings’ defence was very good, but their discipline was failing them, particularly when they had to protect their line and the slew of penalties put them under huge pressure.
The third penalty in the 22 was sent to the corner and from the resultant lineout, the Kings initially repelled our efforts before eighthman Daniel du Preez grabbed the ball and dived over to give us the lead for the first time. Lambie converted from the touchline and we held a 13-8 lead after 25 minutes.
Three penalties conceded, all three resulting in points to illustrate how costly mistakes in the wrong areas can be.
The Kings showed their intention to play and pushed our defence hard before Cronje, deep in the pocket, received the ball and sent the perfect drop-goal over to reduce the deficit to just two points.
Pat Lambie had left the field for a concussion test following a head clash with team-mate Rhyno Smith and Garth April showed his BMT and kicking credentials with a 55m penalty, but the Kings were not taking any setbacks lightly.
A break through the middle led to a try to Cronje, and in the process, Smith tackled high and was sent to the sin bin. Cronje converted and with a minute of the half remaining, the home side had an 18-16 lead which they held on to for the remaining moments until half-time.
22 seconds marked a nightmare start to the second half as Bock sprinted down the touchline from the Kings’ 22 to score his second try and really throw a spanner in the works. Cronje converted for a 25-16 lead.
Frayed tempers nearly boiled over a number of times in frustration and pointed to the competitiveness of the game and how passionate both teams were.
The Kings were on a warning for repeated infringements at the breakdown and the next incident earned them a yellow card, the penalty converted by April. The momentum shift held and great defence in our half earned a turnover and half the team was involved in a great build-up to Lwazi Mvovo’s try. April converted and we were back in front with a quarter of the game remaining.
The lead was bound to keep changing hands and did just that with another Cronje penalty followed by April’s third. With just the one point lead, the win was tentative, given the way the Kings were playing, and a fourth penalty for April gave us a four point lead going into the final five minutes.
It was unfortunately not enough as the Kings hammered away and lifted by the energy from the crowd, managed a try in the corner to retake the lead. Cronje converted for a 35-32 lead.
Stand-in captain, Philip van der Walt said afterwards, “We had a tough start and knew the Kings would put pressure on us. We started getting into the game in the second half, but they capitalised because we didn’t exit well, so well done to them. We have a lot of character in this team but that was two steps forward and three steps back. We need to start well, we didn’t do that tonight.”