In an entertaining Natixis Cup challenge match in Hong Kong on Saturday, the Cell C Sharks saw off Racing 92 with a fairly emphatic 31-14 victory in our final pre-season hit-out before the start of Vodacom Super Rugby.
With Racing midway through their season and the Cell C Sharks still preparing for the start of ours, there would always be the fear that we would look rusty against one of the best internationally represented club sides in the world. However, given the meaning that each side – and indeed the players – attached to this game, the result was never really the ultimate aim.
Instead, for Racing it was playing an exhibition match and avoiding injuries ahead of the remainder of their competitive commitments over the next few months, while the Cell C Sharks were looking to get their game going ahead of Vodacom Super Rugby.
To say the Cell C Sharks looked hungrier was probably testament to the fight for positions that is driving competition in the team. The players are excited to be back on the park and they want to play, they want a starting jersey.
The Cell C Sharks looked fresh and focused and took a commanding 12-nil lead at half-time having dictated the pace and direction of the game. Keeping the French team scoreless in the first half would have been one aim accomplished and scoring two of our own another box ticked.
Makazola Mapimpi scored the first try with centre Marius Louw adding the second with his try converted by Robert du Preez.
Three minutes into the second half, Louw went in for his second, a truly beautiful piece of attacking rugby. We had forced a scrum by pressuring Racing just outside their 22, the ball was sent wide and Louw and his centre partner Lukhanyo Am combined perfectly out wide for the score, converted by du Preez.
Racing finally managed to score when they hammered away at our tryline from close quarters as the game approached the final half hour and after initially not awarding it, the referee did and the conversion took the game to 19-7.
A slew of changes had been made but the next play, moments later could have resulting in a try with action shifting from our 22 to the edge of Racing’s tryline. Another good attacking movement was held up, but it showed that the pace we were playing was catching out the French cosmopolitan side.
Young Robert du Preez, the star of the 2017 Currie Cup final, now back at The Sharks played an impressive role, mixing things up and keeping the opposition under huge pressure. He has an educated, accurate boot and will add huge value this season.
The pressure continued, Racing conceded two penalties close to their line, received a warning and then another setback on the scoreboard as the hugely impressive Cameron Wright dived over for the fourth try, with Curwin Bosch, on for du Preez, pushing the conversion narrowly wide.
At 24-7 with 20 minutes to go, the result looked to be well and truly sewn up, although, to their credit, Racing pushed hard for a second score. Although they had numerous penalty opportunities, they were up against some resolute defence and failed to add to their lone try.
With the game losing some shape later in the game, Racing looked to capitalise on turnover ball. They had to work hard and take advantage of numerous penalties before finally scoring with two minutes remaining with their strong scrum setting the platform for the score.
The Cell C Sharks had the final say as Racing took the game past fulltime, looking to score but turning over ball and Curwin Bosch finishing off a movement that started in his side’s 22. He converted his try from out wide to close out a worthwhile excursion to Hong Kong.
While it’s important to reiterate the earlier statement that the outcome of the match holds little significance in the grand scheme of the season ahead, the result reflects the mindset and gauge of where the team want to be, which bodes well for the competition.
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