The Cell C Sharks had to work hard for the spoils, but ultimately proved too strong for the Chiefs as we ran out deserved 28-24 Vodacom Super Rugby winners at JONSSON KINGS PARK on Saturday afternoon.
Facing a Chiefs’ team bereft of most of their frontline players, either out injured or attending to All Black training commitments, the Cell C Sharks were too good and put sufficient pressure on the visitors to force errors throughout.
A powerful scrum set the tone throughout and a focused, energetic performance was enough to win our third match out of four over New Zealand opposition.
It started out well and although there was a time when the Chiefs took the lead – albeit it briefly – it was a game we never looked in danger of losing.
After forcing a penalty at scrum-time within the opening five minutes, Robert du Preez was handed the opportunity to score his 150th point of the tournament with a three-pointer that allowed us to score early points and put a marker on the game.
Five minutes later, he was the man in possession as the forwards had worked beautifully together, the front rowers in particular showing some serious skills, as the flyhalf went over for the first try. He converted to give the Cell C Sharks a 10-nil lead, having scored all the points so far.
But, despite being under all kinds of pressure, the Chiefs were still able to put in a competitive performance. The warning this week was that regardless of the side they would put together in the absence of some 20 players, they could not be underestimated and just shy of the 20 minute mark, kicked a penalty to touch and from the ensuing lineout, managed to score a try of their own.
Although there was no shortage of energy or determination from the home side, we simply couldn’t turn our opportunities into points and instead had to watch as the Chiefs equalised through a penalty with less than five minutes of the half remaining.
Although the spoils were shared at half-time, it would probably be a more relieved Chiefs team than a jubilant Sharks’ side who would have known running into the changerooms that we should have had more reward for our efforts.
We came out with fire in our bellies and were rewarded almost immediately, two minutes into the second half Lwazi Mvovo went over for our second try, an important score at a vital time in the game.
However, the Chiefs were able to take the lead with an easy try off an intercept and with the conversion, they went 17-15 ahead with 32 minutes remaining. That lead exchanged hands again as the Chiefs were penalised in the tackle and du Preez added the three that took us one point ahead not two minutes later.
As a number of personnel changes were made so came a change in fortunes as we monstered the Chiefs in successive scrums, the second allowing new scrumhalf Cameron Wright to exploit space around the fringes and score under the posts. The conversion took us into an eight point lead with the final quarter still to play and crucially two scores ahead of the visitors.
With 15 minutes remaining, Robert du Preez, himself the victim of a tackle that was referred for no-arms and high, kicked a penalty when Franco Marais was high tackled to extend the lead to 11 points.
With time up on the clock, the Chiefs took advantage of turnover ball and streaking down the touchline, scored the try that earned them a losing bonus point from the game. It was too little too late, but showed just how competitive they had been, despite the missing players.