The Cell Sharks defeated the Pumas 27-25 in our return leg Currie Cup clash at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit to earn our seventh consecutive win which allowed us to maintain our log leading status.
It was a tight match that could well have gone the way of the home side and ultimately a strong finish provided the impetus to win a game in which the Pumas showed their pedigree as a side worth respecting.
Although we exerted early pressure, a turnover on the halfway line gave the Pumas an opportunity to attack and a good build-up before the ball was sent out wide led to the first try of the game, to the hosts, in the third minute of the game.
Although the touchline conversion went wide, further points came from a penalty five minutes later. As the game hit the first quarter hour, the Pumas were penalised on defence and Curwin Bosch had no trouble converting to get us on the board.
A minute later Bosch was instrumental in getting the ball upfield and although there was a good chase to score, the Pumas managed to get there first. However, there was some impeding in the process and a second kick was on, although Bosch pushed it wide.
The missed opportunity proved minor in consequence as Bosch had a hand in our first try, swinging the ball wide to Sbu Nkosi out wide to dive over level matters, with the touchline conversion unfortunately striking the upright.
The game started opening up as both sides used the boot to good effect in finding space behind the first line of defence which turned it into an exciting game. We doubled our try count as the game approached the half hour mark when we attacked off a scrum, Ruan Botha made a fantastic break and then offloaded to Jeremy Ward to score under the posts, handing Bosch his easiest conversion to give us a 15-9 lead.
With five minutes of the half remaining, Akker van der Merwe was yellow carded for off-sides as we were forced to defend our line, and although the Pumas pushed hard, they could not penetrate. However, it did mean we would be down to 14 men for the remainder of the half and five minutes into the second half.
The Pumas opted for the scrum, but couldn’t enforce their advantage and eventually knocked the ball on as danger was adverted. But further disadvantage came our way when we earned a second yellow card, this time on the TMO recommendation for a ‘grass-cutter’ tackle by Tyler Paul and we were down to 13 men, the forward pack comprising just six.
The Pumas again opted for the attacking lineout, sending the ball to the touchline instead of through the posts, but the referee blew them up for truck and trailer during their driving maul and we had weathered the storm without conceding any further points to go into the half-time break leading 15-9, having scored two tries to one.
Head coach Robert du Preez had warned that the Pumas would be abrasive and they were, but we had contained them well under testing circumstances. Crucially, by the time we were restored to 14 men, we hadn’t conceded any further points, but the one man disadvantage had to count and the Pumas exploited this fact when they pushed our defence to score the first points of the second half after five minutes of action. The conversion was good and the scores were deadlocked.
Still down to 14, we sadly conceded a third try with half an hour remaining and with the conversion, the Pumas took a 22-15 lead. Further pain was inflicted when a penalty was awarded for a dangerous tackle on the try-scorer to give the home side a 10 point lead.
But as we have shown in past games, a strong finish has ensured good results and a big effort from the forwards allowed Wian Vosloo to score off a driving maul. April added the two and there were just three points separating the teams with 12 minutes left to play.
Moments before the end of the game, huge momentum carried us into the Pumas’ half and Garth April made the perfect offload to Rhyno Smith to score the bonus point try and crucially put us back in the lead, albeit just two points the difference with less than three minutes remaining.
There were anxious moments to negotiate as the Pumas worked their way into a position from which to score, but an accidental off-sides put paid to their efforts at winning the match.
The Cell C Sharks travel to Kimberley next week to take on Griquas in what should be another huge physical battle.