Cell C Sharks coach Sean Everitt earlier in the week said his squad would be fuelled by “new energy” in the absence of several key players who are part of the Springbok camp and they negotiated a traditionally tricky hurdle in the form of the men from the Northern Cape, who have long been a thorn in their side.
Led by new captain Phepsi Buthelezi at No 8, who scored one of his team’s four tries, the Durbanites were made to work hard for their win, but ultimately came away from Kimberley with maximum points.
The hosts, who also had a new captain in former Vodacom Bulls back-rower Ruan Steenkamp who, like Buthelezi, is a former Junior Springbok skipper, were gutsy as ever. They tried hard but conceded two tries in a 12-minute period after the break and just couldn’t recover.
Tafel Lager Griquas got on the board as early as the second minute via a long-range penalty by veteran flyhalf George Whitehead after tighthead Andries Schutte had gotten the better of Khwezi Mona in the first scrum. The two titans would go tit-for-tat throughout.
The Cell C Sharks looked to hit right back with good phase play but the home team held their line. Flyhalf Boata Chamberlain ultimately tried a crosskick but overcooked it and Tafel Lager Griquas were able to clear from the lineout. They weren’t out of danger, though, as the visitors surged up-field from the ensuing lineout and Chamberlain slotted a drop-goal to get his side on the board in the seventh minute.
Opposite number Whitehead put the Peacock Blues back in front after Mona conceded another penalty at scrum time in the 12th minute. The Cell C Sharks loosehead, however, got one back with a massive shove that allowed the visitors to get out of their half moments later.
The Cell C Sharks unlocked the defence on the 20-minute mark when midfielder Marius Louw put Thembelani Bholi into space with an inside pass. The flanker fed Jaden Hendrikse with a good offload with the scrumhalf quickly shipping the ball to his captain whose barnstorming run gave him the momentum to stretch over despite a desperate tackle from Tafel Lager Griquas fullback Masixole Banda. Chamberlain added the conversion to make it 10-6.
Everitt’s charges were on a roll and centre Jeremy Ward looked to have scored a cracking try as he athletically collected a Chamberlain chip and dotted down only to be called back for offside. Still on the prowl, electrifying runs by Hendrikse and Louw got the Cell C Sharks back into the red zone where Gideon van der Merwe, who was excellent, won a vital penalty on the deck in the 32nd minute.
Breakdown pressure on the other side of the field earned Tafel Lager Griquas a kickable penalty but they opted for the lineout instead and the decision seemingly paid off as hooker Janco Uys went over from a driving maul. The try was disallowed, though, because of obstruction and the Cell C Sharks headed into half-time with their seven-point lead intact.
The men in black and white came out strong in the second half and after a penalty by Chamberlain, Ward got his try as he beat Eduan Keyter to a chip from winger Werner Kok. Excellent skill by flyer Anthony Volmink and Hendrikse, who was superb in the No 9 jersey, then saw lock Hyron Andrews gallop in and suddenly the score had ballooned to 25-6 after 52 minutes, with Chamberlain having converted both tries.
In danger of being blown out of the water, Tafel Lager Griquas replied with a good try of their own, centre Andre Swarts' grubber finding Keyter, who brilliantly beat Manie Libbok and touched down in the corner to make it 25-11.
Chamberlain missed a relatively straightforward penalty after yet another dangerous dart by half-back partner Hendrikse had forced the hosts to infringe at the ruck and the flyhalf then kicked the ball out on the full. Looking to capitalise, Tafel Lager Griquas threw everything at the Cell C Sharks near their line but they escaped for the time being.
When replacement Cell C Sharks forward Mpilo Gumede was yellow-carded for playing lock Cameron Lindsay in the air at a lineout, Tafel Lager Griquas had a couple of golden opportunities to cash in but were unable to do so. Soon, they were down to 14 men as well as replacement forward Hanru Sirgel received his marching orders for sacking a driving maul.
The Cell C Sharks almost scored from another driving maul, but replacement hooker Kerron van Vuuren was unable to ground the ball. With seven minutes remaining, the never-say-die Tafel Lager Griquas scored a terrific coast-to-coast try. A cut out pass by Banda gave winger Keyter acres of space and he burned a sweeping Louw before being grounded just outside the Cell C Sharks’ 22. From there, brilliant hands freed up Daniel Kasende to walk over on the other wing.
At 25-16, a successful conversion would’ve brought them within seven, but replacement flyhalf Theo Boshoff’s kick went wide. It mattered little in the end, though, as the Cell C Sharks scored a final try through Van Vuuren to secure the full five points.
Tafel Lager Griquas 16 (6) – Tries: Eduan Keyter, Daniel Kasende. Penalty goals: George Whitehead (2).
Cell C Sharks 30 (13) – Tries: Phepsi Buthelezi, Jeremy Ward, Hyron Andrews, Kerron van Vuuren. Conversions: Boeta Chamberlain (2). Penalty goal: Chamberlain. Drop goal: Chamberlain.