The Durbanites were in control of the contest, leading 18-6, before the match was turned on its head by a red card to Samoan international OJ Noa - among half a dozen Carling Currie Cup debutants in the home team - for a dangerous tackle on Justin Forwood in the 61st minute.
The visitors capitalised right away with Johan Retief scoring a TMO-awarded driving maul try, which Zander du Plessis converted to close the gap to 18-13. The Cell C Sharks showed good composure from there, with replacement scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba and Du Plessis trading penalty goals to leave the game on a knife-edge at 21-16 with seven minutes remaining.
A clutch second penalty goal by Nohamba pushed the Cell C Sharks’ lead out to eight and ultimately proved decisive with Sango Xamlashe scoring a converted try in the final play of the game, the Peacock Blues just running out of time.
Both teams had opportunities to put early points on the board but it remained scoreless after an error-strewn opening quarter. It took until the 28th minute for the game to come alive courtesy of Jordan Chait, who carved through the defence and linked up with halfback partner Cameron Wright on his inside, who cantered in for the opening try.
The young Cell C Sharks flyhalf added the conversion, to go along with a penalty goal seven minutes earlier after Eddie Davids had buckled under the pressure of a powerful scrum, to put the hosts up 10-0.
A lapse in concentration saw the Cell C Sharks put themselves under pressure when they failed to secure the ensuing restart and conceded a penalty, with Du Plessis popping over a regulation kick to open Tafel Lager Griquas’ account. The Peacock Blues finished the stronger of the sides, forcing the Cell C Sharks into conceding a string of penalties, with Du Plessis doubling their tally three minutes before the break.
The visitors would’ve had the lead as well as momentum going into the second half if not for three missed kicks at goal. As it stood, the Cell C Sharks held a 10-6 lead at half-time and scored two minutes after the break, Dan Jooste breaking off from a driving maul and powering his way over.
Murray Koster was unsuccessful with the difficult conversion but slotted a penalty goal in the 52nd minute to stretch the scoreline out to 18-6, Tafel Lager Griquas struggling to cope with the increased tempo of the Cell C Sharks.
Then came the game-changing moment with referee Rasta Rasivhenge giving new Cell C Sharks No 7 Noa his marching orders and setting up a thrilling final quarter, with the men in Black and White doing just enough to give coach Etienne Fynn a razor-thin win in his first match at the helm.
Cell C Sharks 24 (10) – Tries: Cameron Wright, Dan Jooste. Conversions: Jordan Chait. Penalty goals: Chait, Murray Koster, Sanele Nohamba (2).
Tafel Lager Griquas 23 (6) – Tries: Michael Amiras, Sango Xamlashe. Conversions: Zander du Plessis (2). Penalty goals: Du Plessis (3).