Built on the back of a superb kicking game, strong defence and excellent counter-attacking, the Cell C Sharks won for a sixth time in Otago, outscoring the Highlanders by five tries to three in the process, with Makazole Mapimpi and Aphelele Fassi bagging two tries each.
In what was a perfect way for Lukhanyo Am and Craig Burden to celebrate their 50th games at this level, the visitors also disrupted the Highlanders’ lineouts, which robbed the home team from a good attacking platform.
The game started slowly – it was 6-3 to the visitors after the first half-hour – but 10 sublime minutes before the break saw the Cell C Sharks rip the Highlanders to shreds.
James Venter got the first try on the stroke of 30 minutes after the Cell C Sharks won back a superb high kick and the looseforward raced away for the opening five-pointer. Curwin Bosch duly added the extras as the Durbanites took a 13-3 lead with half-time approaching.
But they were not done. Within the next eight minutes, Springbok speedster Mapimpi scored two more tries for the Cell C Sharks, with direct running and good handling at the core of both. Bosch’s conversions stretched the lead to 27-3 at the break.
Bosch made no mistake with his third penalty goal early in the second half and at 30-3 the game looked all but in the bag for the Durbanites.
The Highlanders – with their bench making good impact – were not done though and tries by Dillon Hunt and Jona Nareki saw the Cell C Sharks’ lead shrink to 30-15 with 20 minutes to go.
Fassi scored twice in the last 10 minutes to put the result beyond all doubt, as the lanky fullback twice pounced on loose balls in the Highlanders’ half, to add to the Cell C Sharks’ impressive performance.
Highlanders 20 (3) – Tries: Dillon Hunt, Jona Nareki, Michael Collins. Conversion: Mitch Hunt. Penalty goal: Mitch Hunt.
Cell C Sharks 42 (27) – Tries: James Venter, Makazole Mapimpi (2), Aphelele Fassi (2). Conversions: Curwin Bosch (4). Penalty goals: Bosch (3).