Leading from start to finish, the Cell C Sharks defeated Zebre 38-6 in a comprehensive Vodacom United Rugby Championship victory at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday evening.
The Cell C Sharks went into this match off the back of a three match winning streak and unbeaten at home in 2022, while Zebre arrived winless in the competition. To their credit, Zebre gave it their all and never made it easy for the Durbanites who were made to work hard for the victory.
But relentless pressure kept the Italians on the back foot throughout, finally wearing them down and then running away with the victory, scoring four tries in the second half to disappoint their visitors.
The Cell C Sharks struck first in the opening 10 minutes, thanks to an opportune 50-22 opportunity from Aphelele Fassi that set the forwards up to maul from the lineout 10m out with Henco Venter driving over for the try after sustained pressure and Curwin Bosch adding the two from out wide.
The first scrum of the game came not long afterwards and the power game from the Cell C Sharks dominant pack of forwards continued to earn rewards as they wrestled a penalty right away.
After repelling numerous sorties into their 22, Zebre conceded the first penalty that was sent to the posts with Bosch sending his team into a 10-nil lead after 25 minutes, the Cell C Sharks having dominated possession and territory but finding the passionate defence from the visiting Italians, no doubt buoyed by their national team’s earlier Six Nations victory over Wales.
Zebre finally managed to turn possession into points when they converted their first penalty in the 30th minute to get the scoreboard ticking over for their account.
The visitors’ confidence grew as the half developed and managed to build some momentum as they worked their way into a scoring position and in the last play of the game were awarded a penalty for a breakdown infringement which was sent through the uprights to cut the half-time deficit to 10-6.
Three minutes into the second half, with Zebre barely having a sniff of possession, the Cell C Sharks made good with a concerted forward effort after Grant Williams’ quick tap penalty on the halfway line took possession to the 22 and from there, the relentless pressure was finally closed out by hooker Bongi Mbonambi managing to drive over, with Bosch adding the two.
With just over 25 minutes left, the Zebre team lost a man to the sin bin for multiple infringements after having been warned about their indiscipline and there was just too much pressure from the Cell C Sharks chasing the bonus point with Khutha Mchunu mauling the ball over the line for the third try, Bosch adding the conversion for an unassailable 24-6 lead.
Two minutes later the bonus point try came following some excellent attacking work initially from the forwards before the backline got involved and Grant Williams was fed the inside pass to score under the posts, the 25 point lead showing the team’s dominance.
Try number five came with 10 minutes remaining when Zebre were once more reduced to 14 men for repeated penalties defending their line, Bosch being fed a long ball after the forwards had hammered away and broken the back of the defence. The Cell C Sharks flyhalf converted to take his team into a 38-6 lead.
Vodacom Man of the Match Henco Venter who had a storming game, leading many of the individual statistics, said afterwards that in a game of two halves, it was all about applying the pressure, wearing them down and then securing the victory.
“We knew against a team like Zebre they wouldn’t go away, but to keep pounding away at them and that’s what we did.”