Sharks lose nail-bitter

Apr 29 • General News, Super Rugby • 1129 Views • Comments Off on Sharks lose nail-bitter

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The Cell C Sharks went down to the best team in the competition, losing narrowly 24-22 to the Chiefs in their final Vodacom Super Rugby match of their three week New Zealand tour.

It was a heart-breaking result given the fightback and the way they imprinted their game over a side that has lost just once by always being in control. Given that the Chiefs were billed as a top attacking side, playing a top defensive side, the Cell C Sharks managed to outscore their hosts three tries to two.

The match couldn’t have started on a more disappointing note, the Chiefs scoring a try within the first minute’s play after a set move from the lineout following the Cell C Sharks’ clearance m the kick-off receipt.

The seven pointer was not only a physical blow, but a huge mental setback, coming so early in the game, and it could have been devastating.

Following last week’s narrow, but determined victory ove the Highlanders, Director of Rugby Gary Gold recalled the previous year’s huge loss when he suggested there was an element of giving up.  The same thing could have happened this week, but after a few nervous moments in those opening five minutes, a great attack took the Cell C Sharks winthin striking distance before they earned a penalty and converted through Garth April.

Cruden restored the seven point gap with a penalty of his own and then both sides hammered away at each other before the Chiefs extended their lead when eighthman Michael Leitch was thrown a long pass out wide and he managed to score in the corner. Cruden couldn’t convert from the touchline, but they were starting to make their mark on the game, leading 15-3.

Again, it could have all gone downhill but character tends to show itself in tough times and it wasn’t long before the Cell C Sharks managed to strike back.

Good pressure forced a mistake from the Chiefs in their 22, advantage turned into a penalty, the ball was kicked to touch, the lineout was driven and hooker Kyle Cooper managed to dive over at the back of the maul. April converted to bring his team right back into the game at 15-10 down on the half hour mark.

Building momentum and with confidence growing, hving rattled the Chiefs’ natural game, the balance of power appeared to be shifting in the Cell C Sharks favour.

Then came a moment of magic. Garth April has been threatening to show his pure class on attack and delivered a mazy, magical run to score his team’s second try – his first in Super Rugby – the explosive pace mesmerising the defence as the teams went level moments before the half-time break.

The Chiefs had one last effort but the defence was up to the task and the sides went off to the changerooms with the scoreboard reflecting 15 points apiece.

The second half started at a high pace, the Chiefs looking to assert their style on the game, having been forced to be reactive in the first half and finding the the tempo and rhythm not to their liking.

With the Chiefs enjoying the lion’s share of possession in the opening 10 minutes, it was inevitable that they would get some reward, although they were finding the defence strong and unwilling. Cruden’s penalty snatched a three point lead with a half hour’s play remaining.

Damian Mackenzie, leading all kinds of attacking stats in the competition, evaded a number of tackles before being smashed by JP Pietersen, but the Chiefs were doing what they do best.

They stretched their lead to six points going into the final quarter of the game, Cruden converting a penalty awarded at the scrum and then kicking another after the Chiefs had taken the ball through seven phases, for a nine point lead with 10 minutes remaining.

But never discount character, that word we’ve been using regularly, as the Cell C Sharks stuck back. A kickable penalty was sent to the corner, the lineout drive was on and Chiliboy Ralepelle was the man in possession as the forwards stormed over the tryline.

Garth April continued to wear his kicking boots (last week he kicked five from five) as he converted from the touchline and suddenly there were just two points in it.

Another multiple phase build-up from the Chiefs, taking possession through 14 phases, allowed them to hang on to the bakk long enough to close out a particularly close game.

Captain Keegan Daniel said afterwards that he was disappointed in the result but proud of his team’s fortitude.

“We hung in there at 15-3 down and stuck it out. Our discipline probably let us down, we let them off the hook. Credit to the guys, we never gave up, we were still in it with 10 minutes to go.”

Courtesy of The Sharks

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