The Cell C Sharks got their 2016 Currie Cup campaign off to a positive start with a 33-10 defeat of the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday evening.
It was not only an opportunity to make a winning beginning to the competition, but also a statement of intent against a side that has been together all season without disruption and who possibly came into this game with a greater sense of continuity.
But clearly this Cell C Sharks team mean business in the competition and will look back in particular to an outstanding setpiece effort on the night to lay the foundation for the victory.
They rushed into a 14-3 lead in the opening quarter with two converted tries – to Franco Marais and Odwa Ndungane – but conceded a try to the home team around the half hour mark.. Neither team could add to their earlier scores and the scoreboard gave the Cell C Sharks a slender four point (14-10) lead at the half-time break.
Playing a high tempo game, keeping the ball alive but at a rapid pace allowed them to strike again, this time S’bura Sithole the man to score and add a third try. Bosch converted and it was an 11 point lead.
With 15 minutes remaining and the visitors making all the play, Ruan Botha was driven over to give his team a decisive lead, and although Curwin Bosch’s conversion struck the upright, the 16 point lead gave them the necessary breathing space.
Importantly, not only was the scrum and lineout functioning with great accuracy, but defence was outstanding too. They were forced to withstand a number of incursions into their 22, but manfully kept the home team out.
And following the fourth try, another tighthead at the Pumas put in at the scrum allowed Stefan Ungerer to exploit the advantage, feed a speeding Andre Esterhuizen who sprinted down the blind side to score the fifth try.
Bosch added the two and there was no turning back from a 33-10 margin.
The Pumas, to their credit, never gave up, even after the final whistle, but there was simply no penetrating the Cell C Sharks defence which held firm right to the death.
Although it’s still early days and no competition is won in the first week, there can be no denying that should the Cell C Sharks continue to play with such accuracy and intent, they can expect to enjoy plenty of success off the back of this showing.