A strong first-half performance carried the Sharks to a 26-7 victory over the Blues at Kings Park on Saturday.
The home side were simply too good for the Blues, running out four tries to one bonus-point victors against the tourists who were pressured and harried and then wilted in the heat against a side intent on winning at home.
A four try to one Vodacom Super Rugby defeat is a rare pleasure against New Zealand sides, but the Cell C Sharks managed to maintain their stranglehold over the Blues with a hard-fought, but ultimately deserved victory.
The opening 10 minutes belonged to the Cell C Sharks, who pressured the Blues in their half. The moment the visitors had an opportunity to get out of their half, an overthrown lineout was poached by Akker van der Merwe who set up what would be a try-scoring attack on the halfway line, with the backs combining perfectly for Aphelele Fassi to finish off a sweeping move and the opening try of the game.
A second lineout fail for the Blues saw Hyron Andrews poaching the ball and from the resultant attack, the ball was taken deep into Blues territory. They conceded a number of penalties, and the hosts kicked to the corner.
A trademark forward drive saw Van der Merwe repeat his exploits of last week to drive over for the second try inside the opening quarter. Robert du Preez converted for a 12-nil lead.
The Blues continued to remain on the back foot and although there was one short period when they managed to put an attacking move together in the hosts’ half, it came to nothing.
The debilitating heat and humidity was clearly having an effect on the New Zealanders who were simply making too many mistakes for the polish expected of a Kiwi side.
The home side sadly lost the services of the dangerous Sbu Nkosi in a tackle around the half hour mark which heralded the first appearance of Curwin Bosch in Vodacom Super Rugby after missing last week’s game with a shoulder niggle.
The Blues conceded a third try just before half time after conceding a penalty for a dangerous neck roll which was kicked to the corner. Although the forwards – and a few backs – couldn’t score from the driving maul, although they came close, the ball was sent out to the backline with Robert du Preez jinxing his way under the uprights. His conversion gave the Cell C Sharks a well-deserved 19-0 lead.
There were a few anxious moments to negotiate as the Blues took the attack from their own 22 and then sent a penalty to the opposite 22 but somehow contrived to lose the ball which killed off their last opportunity to put points on the board before the end of the half, one that was almost completely dominated by the Cell C Sharks.
The second half started where the first left off, although a couple of chances didn’t go all the way, but still the Blues battled in the conditions. It was to take a trademark Sonny Bill Williams offload in the tackle to set up what looked to be the first Blues score, just short of an hour into the game but the TMO ruling was for a forward pass in the build-up and they were to remain scoreless.
Although the Cell C Sharks showed great resilience on defence in holding them out for so long, the Blues finally managed a patient, if not frustrated build-up before swinging the ball out wide after the forwards had had no joy trying to break through and with the conversion, took the score to 19-7 with just over 15 minutes remaining.
With the game slipping from their grasp, the Blues looked to somehow inject extra energy into their attack and attempt to wrestle the game away from the Cell C Sharks who had been in command all match. It was a tense finale to what had been a brutally physical clash between worthy foes.
But it would be Bosch who would absolutely knock the wind from their sales. Earlier Jeremy Ward had flattened the Blues flyhalf in a monster tackle and that rush defence paid off as the Blues had a scrum on the Cell C Sharks 22, but under pressure on attack, the ball was snatched up by Bosch who raced to the tryline for the fourth try and seal the game. The conversion pushed the lead to 26-7 and with it, the win.
The Cell C Sharks have now earned maximum log points from our first two matches and host the Stormers next Saturday.
Tries: Fassie, Van Der Merve, R. Du Preez, Bosch
Cons: R Du Preez 3