It took a huge defensive effort, not to mention a Highlanders’ victory earlier in the day, but ultimately, the Cell C Sharks were too good for the Jaguares in their 20-10 Vodacom Super Rugby victory at JONSSON KINGS PARK to earn a place in the knock-out rounds.
The Cell C Sharks players would have had their hearts in their throats watching the morning match between the Highlanders and Rebels, knowing that a New Zealand win would open the door for us to make it through to the knock-out rounds, but having to wait for them to overcome a fairly big deficit before ultimately prevailing against the Australians.
Meanwhile, the Jaguares, mindful of the fact that in the Bulls-Lions match, a Bulls win would offer them the opportunity of winning the South African Conference and the honour of hosting their quarter-final next week, would have been agonising at the fact that the Lions were too good, and themselves made sure of the win and top spot in the local conference.
The opening 10 minutes saw both sides battling with the wet ball, the rain not making handling easy, but thanks to a powerful scrum and more ball possession, it was the Cell C Sharks who were able to better dictate matters in the early stages. The first points came via the boot of Robert du Preez, the flyhalf converting a penalty from a great scrum.
With weather conditions demanding points at every opportunity, du Preez added a second penalty after the Jaguares infringed during a good driving maul. But our luck turned as Dan du Preez received a yellow card for a ‘grass cutter’ tackle and the Jaguares opted for the three points as well, reducing the margin to 6-3 in our favour after a quarter of the match had been played.
Not two minutes later, we scored again, this time the tight five working extremely hard to get some momentum going on a driving maul, with Vodacom Man of the Match Akker van der Merwe breaking loose and sprinting in for the first try of the match. Du Preez converted for a 13-3 lead.
Despite enjoying more than 80% possession and territory, as well as a one man advantage for 10 minutes, the Jaguares could not penetrate our outstanding defence. They say that defence is all about character and this was no more evident as we repelled wave after wave of Jaguares attack in our 22.
Eventually we had to survive a TMO call on a possible try to the visitors to reinforce our advantage against all odds before the referee blew time on the first half with the Cell C Sharks enjoying a 10 point lead at the half-time break.
It didn’t seem possible given the stats, but it proved that the numbers’ game does not always tell a human story.
It took 12 minutes into a second half when we were on top but couldn’t make the pressure count for the next score, Kobus van Wyk scoring well in the corner after Andre Esterhuizen ran the perfect line to break through and then feed his wing for a try that required confirmation from the TMO.
The successful conversion from out wide meant the Jaguares, with a surfeit of ball, needed to make their possession count. They would need to score at least three times in a match that was fast resembling a losing cause.
Earning the win came off a wonderfully solid and brave defensive effort. It was never more in evidence than in the final quarter when the Jaguares worked their way towards our 22, taking possession through 17 phases but eventually ending up back on the halfway line, unable to make their advantage count.
With 13 minutes of the game remaining, the Jaguares scored their first and only points of the half, a well-worked kick through for their only try of the game to give them a glimmer of hope.
But with 10 points in it and the Cell C Sharks simply too outstanding and resolute on defence, there was simply no way the players were going to allow their hard-earned gains to be stolen.
Finishing in the top eight means a place in next week’s Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-finals and trip to Christchurch to take on 2017 champions, the Crusaders.
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