The Cell C Sharks produced their best performance of the season as they beat the Hurricanes 32-15 in Durban on Saturday.
It was a welcome return home and with the field bathed in beautiful afternoon sunshine, they looked to attack from the outset and probably dominated the early exchanges.
A halfway line penalty from Garth April fell tantalisingly short, while the Hurricanes lost the ball on attack after the home side had turned over possession on an attack of their own.
Clearly this was going to be a high energy, bruising encounter given the early indications from both sides that they wouldn’t shy away from physicality and elusive running.
The Cell C Sharks were over the tryline first, Paul Jordaan taking the pass from Garth April who had made a fantastic break from inside his half, but the TMO ruled the pass forward – marginally so – and the scoreboard remained unchanged.
Their tails up, another great break saw Lwazi Mvovo chip and chase, only to be barged down in the act of chasing a try, with the penalty successfully converted by April.
It took until 25 minutes of brutal attack and defence from both sides before the Hurricanes managed to open their account, flyhalf Beauden Barrett equalising with his first shot at posts.
That score lifted the visitors’ spirits and they attacked with fervour at the next opportuntity, hammering away at the line before finally breaking through, prop Reg Goodes barging his way over with half an hour’s play behind them. Barrett hooked the conversion and the Hurricanes led 8-3.
The dark clouds loomed overhead and offered a challenge: to either be a portent of danger or to ignite a Sharks storm. The latter is exactly what happened as they took attack through umpteen phases, initiated by a Paul Jordaan tackle and steal on the ground, involving pretty much the entire side, sparked by a strong and elusive Keegan Daniel break and finished off by JP Pietersen who scored in the corner.
The touchline conversion went wide, but the strike of equalising on the stroke of half-time was a psychological blow the Cell C Sharks needed to inflict to show last year’s finalists that they meant business.
The second half started on fire, with no let up from either side. But the Hurricanes’ tactic of running everything at the Cell C Sharks backfired against the tournament’s finest defence as the ball went down under pressure, Andre Esterhuizen hacked it ahead and JP Pietersen followed up to score his second try. April converted and his team had the lead.
This was Test match type rugby at its best, flowing attack, uncompromising defence and all the intensity, drama and entertainment a rugby fan could ask for.
The third Cell C Sharks try came off the perfect build-up. Willie le Roux kicked for the corner, under pressure the ball was taken over the tryline by the Hurricanes’ defence for a home side scrum.
They pushed the Hurricanes back, earned the penalty, Michael Claassens took the quick tap and somehow manged to bury his way through three defenders from close range. April scored and the lead was now 22-8.
But the crowd saved their biggest cheer for the fan favourite – Pat Lambie – who then ran onto the field following his much awaited return to rugby.
What followed was some sublime hand to hand attack that had the Hurricanes at sixes and sevens on defence. A high tackle led to another penalty and Lambie struck it beautifully between the posts to extend the Cell C Sharks lead to 17 points; 25-8 with just under 25 minutes remaining.
Despite the huge deficit, there was no let up from the Hurricanes who somehow sensed an upset at that stage, but which was looking increasingly unlikely. If not from their own error rate, certainly a hugely confident Cell C Sharks side who knew the game was theirs, and were enjoying playing in this spectacle as much as the fans were enthralled watching it.
They weren’t finished yet as they opted to scrum at penalty time late in the game, and their dominant pack shoved the Hurricanes behind their tryline, allowing number 8 Daniel du Preez to pick up and force his way over.
That was the bonus point and Lambie added the two to push his side into an unassailable, 32-8 lead with just under 10 minutes remaining.
The Hurricanes removed the bonus point when James Marshall penetrated the defence to score under the posts and the conversion reduced the deficit to 17 points as the game headed for the final five minutes.
There was time for a final attack, or two or three as possession changed hands after regulation time, but there would be no further score.
The crowd gave them a standing ovation, a fitting mark of respect for what was one of the most exciting games played at Growthpoint KINGS PARK in some time.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Pietersen 2, Claassens, D du Preez
Cons: April 2, Lambie
Pens: April, Lambie
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Goodes, Marshall