The Cell C Sharks put together a fantastic performance in the Currie Cup Final to come out victorious, showing composure and delivering the goods in a pressure-cooker of a match.
Tactically, the Cell C Sharks proved superior on the day, the game plan keeping DHL Western Province tryless throughout and condemning them to a second home defeat to the Cell C Sharks in two finals going back to 2013.
“Especially in the second half, we had a bit of a nervous start in the first half but regained our composure after the half-time break and really played good rugby,” said head coach Robert du Preez after the match.
Province, undefeated all season, were uncharacteristically error-ridden in the final, the lineouts going completely awry and they made plenty of mistakes with ball in hand which hampered the efforts of the team with the best attacking record in the competition.
The pressure that the Cell C Sharks put the home side under was similar to the semi-final against the Vodacom Blue Bulls the previous week, when Province were nearly upset in their final hurdle before the season climax. Although individual areas weren’t targeted, the general plan was to put so much pressure on the team that mistakes would be made and that plan came together successfully.
Du Preez admitted that the disruption in Province’s momentum from lineouts was a decisive factor in the outcome of the game.
“Lineouts are vital in tight games like this and if you don’t get quality ball from lineouts, you’re always going to struggle.
“I wouldn’t say we went out there to really target them at lineout time, but we knew that if we played a pressure game against them, it would take its toll and that’s what happened.”
Du Preez explained that down 6-0 at half-time, the team talk wasn’t so much about making wholesale changes, just tightening things up and playing to the team’s potential.
“We knew that we had to hang on to the ball and retain possession when we had it, put phases together because we were making big yards with our carries, so that was the plan, as well as to keep playing the territory game.”
As far as effort goes, there can be no faulting the team, but ultimately it was more than that. It was about the personalities and the attitude. The determination and brotherhood.
“All credit must go to the players and to the leadership group, in which Chiliboy Ralepelle has played a magnificent role this year,” said the coach. “His leadership and captaincy has been outstanding.
“We had a theme over the last couple of weeks called ‘Brother-for-brother’ and the boys really played for each other. Credit to not just the leaders in the team but all the players, including those outside the match 23 who also played a massive role this season.”
Although the Cell C Sharks had suffered a 50 point loss to Western Province in the pool stages, they carried no baggage from that match. Almost bittersweet revenge you could say.
“It’s always sweet to beat a team in their own back yard. Province is a great team and they played some fantastic rugby this season, so credit to them and the way they played.
“Finals are a different beast, you have to take your opportunities and you’ll walk away with the trophy.”
At 6-0 down and having TMO try-decisions go against us, co-captain Chiliboy Ralepelle admitted that it was all about keeping the faith in the team and the game plan.
“I just knew that what was most important was to keep the belief, even if things weren’t going our way,” he said. “We knew we could still come back because we hadn’t put ourselves under any pressure at all. I suppose there was some worry that we didn’t have any points on the board, but there was never any panicking in the game. That shows great leadership from Louis [Schreuder].
“We knew we needed to remain composed, keep ball in hand and put pressure back on them. We did that and got rewarded with some brilliant tries.”