The Cell C Sharks were in sublime form as they dominated Munster in their Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 knock-out clash, their 50-35 victory sending them into the tournament’s quarter-finals.
Munster proved their worth in the first half and there was little to separate the two teams on the scoreboard at half time, but a three try blitz in the third quarter wrestled all advantage and momentum the Cell C Sharks way and completely turned the game on its head..
Early pressure on the visitors kept them in their half before they conceded a lineout penalty which, given the nature of a knock-out game, there was no hesitating in opting for the three pointer, well-converted by Curwin Bosch.
But Munster struck back almost immediately with the first try of the game, a kick-chase they managed to control and from there the ball was sent wide, the conversion taking them into a 7-3 lead inside the opening 10 minutes.
Three dominant Cell C Sharks scrums later, Munster found themselves forced to defend and when Werner Kok went on a mesmerising run and then fed Makazole Mapimpi who bust his way through the defence, when he fed Jaden Hendrikse, the scrumhalf pinned his ears back but still had to contend with two defenders who simply couldn’t stop his momentum, with Bosch adding the two for a repeat three-point lead as the game approached the 20 minute mark.
Excellent competing on the ground led to a turnover that resulted in the second Cell C Sharks’ try, scored by Eben Etzebeth but initially referred to the TMO for confirmation following a series of highly effective pick and drives from the forwards. Bosch converted in the 25th minute for a 17-7 lead.
Again, Munster were propelled into action and they scored a similar forward-oriented try to cut the lead just after the half hour mark, the conversion once more leaving just three points separating the two teams.
There was an element of uncertainty about the closing minutes of the half with neither side willing to make too many mistakes and there was no further score as the Cell C Sharks took a 17-14 lead into the half-time break.
The second half started off perfectly for the Cell C Sharks, the lineout maul option earning them successive penalties and penalty advantage as they worked their way closer and closer to the tryline with each subsequent transgression from Munster, before Bongi Mbonambi was at the back of a powerful push and went over for his team’s third try, converted from out wide to restore the 10 point lead.
Not five minutes later the Cell C Sharks scored a carbon-copy try after Munster’s discipline continued to plagued them against a rampant Cell C Sharks who had lost Jaden Hendrikse, Eben Etzebeth and Emile van Heerden, the latter playing on bravely through injury until he could leave the field.
With half an hour of the absorbing contest remaining, the Cell C Sharks enjoyed a 29-14 lead and a few minutes later the result was completely out of question when Werner Kok took on the defence and won spectacularly as he scythed through the defence to score, with Bosch adding the conversion for a 36-14 lead.
In less than 10 minutes, Bosch scored the third of the brief period and his team’s sixth when a Munster attack broke down in midfield and the Cell C Sharks’ flyhalf snapped up the loose ball and sprinted half the length of the field to score in the corner, and then had the audacity to convert from the touchline for a 43-14 lead going into the final quarter of the game.
The high pace of the game continued and Munster went over for their third try soon afterwards with a strong driving maul but their joy was short-lived when Makazole Mapimpi read the perfect intercept on the halfway line and no-one was going to stop him in his 50m run to the tryline as the Cell C Sharks hit 50 points with Bosch’s conversion.
Although the result was out of question, to their credit Munster never quit and scored again with a well-engineered move off an attacking lineout for a 50-28 scoreline with 10 minutes left to play and then scored again with a similar effort as the game headed for the final whistle.
This was a quality, highly entertaining match befitting the tournament’s status.