Sharks clear Cheetahs hurdle

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The Cell C Sharks moved one step closer to a place in the last eight with a 26-10 win over the Cheetahs in Durban on Saturday.

Needing a minimum of two log points to keep their hopes alive of going into the next round, they did more than that with a win that, in the final analysis, was about doing the right things in the right areas of the field, and not allowing the Cheetahs any sniff of ascendancy.

Despite making all the play in the early stages of the game, the Cell C Sharks found no gaps in the Cheetahs’ defence, the Free Staters clearly having come to Durban to play.

There were scrums aplenty, the Cell C Sharks gaining the upper hand with a string of free kicks and penalties, at what was becoming a belligerent area of the game with regular pushing and shoving.

Such anger erupted at one scrum and Beast Mtawarira was sent to the cooler. The advantage of being a man up spurred the Cheetahs and Raymond Rhule managed to score in the corner. Flyhalf Fred Zeilinga converted and on the quarter hour, the visitors led 7-nil.

The Cell C Sharks quickly worked their way into the Cheetahs half before earning a kickable penalty which Garth April had no trouble converting.

But with the Cell C Sharks scrum a man down, the home team found themselves under severe pressure trying to protect their tryline after being forced to carry the ball over the line on defence. They weathered the raging storm rather magnificently before the return of Beast and an eight man scrum and the Cheetahs had lost their impetus. Crucially, a poor pass on attack was hacked to the halfway line and disaster had been averted.

The game, and crowd, came alive with five minutes of the half remaining when the Cheetahs were penalised for an early shove at a Cell C Sharks scrum. Quick-thinking from eighthman Philip van der Walt saw him take a quick tap, make some good yardage before the ball was quickly recycled and sent wide, JP Pietersen showing his class as he stepped inside the defence and then powered over for an important try.

Garth April’s successful conversion pushed the Cell C Sharks into the lead for the first time in the game and crucially, injected some self-belief which translated into the deadly defence that has been so successful for them this season. They managed to stymie one last effort from the visitors before heading to the changerooms with a 10-7 lead.

Zeilinga cancelled out the three point margin with a penalty early into the second half, but another scrum penalty for the Cell C Sharks saw them back into the lead with just under half an hour’s play remaining in what was proving to be a very tight game.

Zeilinga was battling with the boot and missed two opportunities to send his team into the lead, while Garth April was having no trouble as he kicked a third penalty to give his team a six point lead going into the final quarter of the game.

Then came some good luck which hadn’t appeared all evening when replacement scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer, hardly on for five minutes, sensed an opportunity and ran on to a long pass for the interception and ran 40m to score under the posts. They do say you make your own luck and Ungerer certainly created it. All of a sudden the pendulum had swung and with the successful conversion, the Cell C Sharks were in a 13 point lead.

With a little over 10 minutes, the exciting young Under 20 star Curwin Bosch came on for his senior debut and at the same time, April took his team 16 points ahead with another penalty, wrapping up the victory.

With time up on the clock, the Cheetahs earned a peanlty which was sent to the touchline for an attacking lineout. Closing out their misery was a poached throw and that was the ball game.

The Cell C Sharks close off their pool stage commitments against the Sunwolves next Friday night carrying a two log point advantage over the Bulls.

The scorers:

For Sharks:
Tries: Pietersen, Ungerer
Cons: April 2
Pens: April 4

For Cheetahs:
Try: Rhule
Con: Zeilinga
Pen: Zeilinga

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