The Cell C Sharks kicked off their Currie Cup campaign with a bonus point, five-try-to-one 32-16 victory over the NovaVit Griffons at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday afternoon.
The team from Welkom won promotion to the Premier Division by virtue of winning last year’s Currie Cup First Division and while for the opening hour they showed they are worthy competitors in the competition, but once the Cell C Sharks asserted their dominance, there was really only one team that was going to emerge victorious.
The Griffons came to play and despite the harsh weather conditions, a hot and humid summer’s day in Durban , they certainly delivered. The fact that they led for the first 50 minutes of the match showed just how gamely they played and with such intent. But the heat and pressure ultimately got the best of them, while the game and flow management from the Cell C Sharks proved the difference in the final analysis.
It was all Griffons in the opening eight minutes as they stayed camped in the Cell C Sharks half, two incursions being thwarted by good defence, but on the third occasion, they managed to make good, scoring in the corner, with the touchline conversion pushing them into an early, 7-nil lead.
A scrum penalty pushed the visitors into a 10 point lead before the referee blew time for a water break at the end of the first quarter.
The ensuing 10 minutes belonged to the Cell C Sharks who had a try disallowed when the ball was held up over the line, but on the half hour, a promising attack was killed by a trip, which resulted in a yellow card for the Griffons’ wing.
There was no stopping the resultant maul from the attacking lineout and no-one was able to prevent the try, Fez Mbatha the man in possession.
Griffons were able to push the lead to eight points with a penalty smack bang in front of the posts but with the game heading for half-time and the Cell C Sharks showing intent on attack, a penalty was kicked to touch and Mbatha broke away at the back of the maul to score his brace before the whistle went and the visitors leading 13-10 at the break.
The first points of the second half when the way of the Griffons, a technical penalty conceded just inside the Cell C Sharks’ half and a third three-pointer pushed them into a 16-10 lead, but all the promise was fulfilled as some inventiveness and pure accuracy allowed the Cell C Sharks to attack from far out with centre Murray Koster showing a clean pair of heels after an inside pass to him found space and the captain was over for his team’s third try.
The fourth and bonus point try came barely a handful of minutes later, the Griffons clearly tiring in the heat and unable to stop the rolling maul, replacement Damon Royle carrying at the back of a relentless forward effort. Another replacement, Bradley Davids, converted and the Cell C Sharks held a six point lead with half an hour remaining and the tide having truly turned.
It was a day for the players off the bench, with Khutha Mchunu scoring the fifth try, another powerful effort from a dominant forward pack, the rolling maul proving to be an effective attacking option and Davids adding the extras from out wide for a 29-16 lead with the final quarter left to play.
The Griffons suffered a second yellow card, this time for cynical play on defence and with the result out of question, the Cell C Sharks opted for three points, Davids converting for a 16 point lead with more than 10 minutes remaining.
The Griffons blew their chances of a second try when, on penalty advantage, a dangerous clean-out to the head saw the penalty reversed and a player red carded.
It would have been a disappointing way for the visitors to end their first foray in the Premier Division, while the Cell C Sharks must feel satisfied that a tricky fixture was successfully negotiated.