The Cell C Sharks somehow conjured some absolute magic to come from behind to win a tense Currie Cup clash against the Airlink Pumas at Mbombela Stadium on Friday evening, winning 24-22 in quite the most outstanding fightback.
The Cell C Sharks made it two from two, having won the first leg 19-12 in early April, just over a month ago and once again were made to fight hard for the victory.
The Pumas might have thought they had the game in the bag, leading 22-10 in the final 10 minutes, but the Cell C Sharks put in a sublime finish, two converted tries against the home side to secure an important win.
Character, determination, composure and bravery are important components in championship winning teams and these attributes accurately describe how this team closed out the game in their favour.
The Cell C Sharks started like a house on fire, the Pumas not getting a touch of the ball and the first try came inside the opening two minutes, James Venter simply too powerful and two defenders unable to stop his momentum, with Aphelele Fassi’s take in the air and Lionel Cronje’s smart offload both instrumental in setting up the score.
The Pumas cut the lead to two points with a scrum penalty at the first set-piece a few minutes later and a second penalty, a further 10 minutes after that, this time an infringement defending a maul, saw the hosts take a 6-5 lead.
With their tails up, the Pumas worked their way into the Cell C Sharks 22 and earned a third kickable penalty, sending it through the posts in the 20th minute with Lionel Cronje being sent from the field, sin-binned for cynical play at the tackle.
The Pumas suffered a worse fate 10 minutes later as the game approached the half hour mark, a direct head-on-head tackle without any mitigation led to a red card and they were down to 14 men for the remainder of the game, while the Cell C Sharks were restored back to 15.
However, the Pumas managed to convert pressure into good field position, the prolific try-scoring team once more opting for the three points when they were awarded a penalty, but this time missing the mark.
At 9-5 down, there wasn’t much in it, but both sides would have felt they could have been more fluid on attack to reward their efforts a little better.
The first points of the second half took nearly 15 minutes to materialise, a fourth penalty for the Pumas which pushed them into a 12-5 lead and then went three points further ahead with a drop-goal with the final quarter of the game remaining.
Sensing that the game could get away from them, the Cell C Sharks employed their driving maul to good effect, a strong effort to score their second try with replacement hooker Dan Jooste the man in possession. Cynical play from the Pumas was punished and they were down to 13 men and just six forwards in what promised to be an intriguing final quarter hour with the home side leading 15-10.
The Pumas somehow conjured up the energy to pressure the Cell C Sharks I their 22 and then a quick tap penalty saw them score their first try of the game, the conversion pushing them into a worrying 22-10 lead with less than 10 minutes left to play.
The Cell C Sharks then put their best passage of play together, a nicely-worked effort where the ball was kept alive in the manner necessary to mount a try-scoring opportunity, with Dylan Richardson simply too strong as he scored try number three, with Nevaldo Fleurs converting to cut the Pumas’ lead to 22-17.
Dian Bleuler was the man who rounded off a 12 phase attack that once again showed just how important continuity and momentum is, the forwards simply sublime and more importantly, absolutely accurate in what they did.
To the booing of the crowd, Fleurs showed ice-cold temperament to slot the conversion and secure a most gutsy win.