MATCH REPORT: A Magnificent Effort

Sometimes wins are easy, sometimes not, but victory is all about maximum effort, determination and character and of these qualities, there can be no denying that the Hollywoodbets Sharks were full value for their 22-12 Vodacom United Rugby Championship victory over Ulster on Saturday afternoon.

Perfect conditions greeted the two sides at Hollywoodbets Kings Park with a gusty wind adding to the challenge for kickers and receivers while a warm, late summer day would have been unseasonal for the visiting Irish, used to near zero temperatures back home.

It was an energetic and physical start for the Hollywoodbets Sharks although sadly they were to lose the services of eighthman George Cronje in the opening two minutes to a knee injury. But they ended the game as they started, with full energy and incredible effort.

The opening quarter was dominated by the Hollywoodbets Sharks who enjoyed the majority of attacking play, putting together some exciting and determined efforts, but Ulster brought a strong defensive effort that countered every foray the Durban side launched.

It was the Irish who struck first, the game approaching the second quarter and a strong maul and then sustained phase play close to the line resulted in a try under the posts for a simple conversion and a 7-0 lead.

With their confidence boosted, it looked like they might score again as the game headed for the half hour, but a loose ball was hacked ahead by Aphelele Fassi and then the chase was on. The ball was kicked ahead again and Phepsi Buthelezi showed his athletic prowess having made the run from his half and getting in the right place to pick up the bobbling ball and score his team’s opening try, with Siya Masuku converting to level matters.

Momentum had changed again and the Hollywoodbets Sharks kept up the pressure for the next 10 minutes, gaining ground and confidence as they game came together, their scrum dominating, the maul effective and the collisions mammoth.

Ulster did well to defend against immense pressure from the home side in the dying moments of the half, having to save their line and somehow managing to see out the close out the half with their tryline intact.

At seven points apiece at the half-time break, it had been a half of rugby that offered every element the fans hope for and promised even more in the second half.

Ulster lost their flyhalf inside the opening two minutes to deliver a similar blow to the Hollywoodbets Sharks in the first half, and were immediately under the pump from a fired-up home team who clearly came out of the changerooms with a plan and the determination to fulfil it.

Six minutes in, the Hollywoodbets Sharks scored their second try, Eduan Keyter chasing a Makazole Mapimpi grubber after Vincent Tshituka had broken through the defence and the ball was sent wide. The TMO was called on to confirm the try and he was happy with the end result. Masuku converted for a 14-7 lead.

14 minutes into the second half, the Irish were being smashed as they tried valiantly to defend their line before they conceded a penalty that Masuku converted to push his side into a 10 point lead. It also marked the entry of Ox Nche and Vincent Koch making his Hollywoodbets Sharks debut.

Ulster scored their second try, a forward effort of pick and drives until they managed to get over. The TMO was called on to adjudicate once again, and once more gave an affirmative call. The conversion went wide and the Irish trailed 17-12 with the final quarter left to play.

Ulster were completely under the pump and conceded a yellow card for a head high tackle in their 22 as they faced an onslaught from the Hollywoodbets Sharks they they were finding harder and harder to stop legally.

From the resultant penalty kicked to touch, Bongi Mbonambi took the ball at the back of the maul, his fellow forwards built the foundation and with backs climbing in to build momentum in the drive, the third try was scored for a 22-10 lead with 13 minutes remaining.

The game ended in a helter-skelter pace, neither side letting up.

Ethan Hooker was a worthy Man of the Match but it was a victory built off a team effort that every player deserves accolades for.