Auckland - The Sharks went down to the Blues 23-18 at Eden Park in Auckland in an opening tour match that was full of thrills, excitement, determined defence and courageous play.
As it happened: Blues 23-18 Sharks
The Sharks were looking to extend their run of 10 straight victories over the Blues, but the home team managed to break the hoodoo with a late rally to come back from a deficit to break the hearts of a brave Cell C Sharks team who, for long periods in the game, looked like they would extend their winning run to 11 matches.
Following on from last week’s loss to the Lions, this was an opportunity to show their character under pressure and they responded magnificently.
Early pressure from the Blues was rewarded with a successful penalty by flyhalf Ihaia West, the hosts attacking from everywhere and looking to play a high intensity game and possibly run the Cell C Sharks off their feet.
However, coupled with some great defence that they turned into attack, Beast went over in the 10th minute to score the opening try of the game. Director of Rugby Gary Gold lamented the team’s inability to finish off opportunities created through turn-overs, and his team responded in perfect fashion with this effort that came from great work on the ground.
There was also no hang-over of the scrum issues that beset them last week. Gold also spoke this week of achieving, at the very least, parity at scrum time, but after the first steady scrum, they earned a penalty at the second, in a kickable position, and to the sounds of booing from the crowd, Pietersen converted.
All credit to the Blues for their attacking mentality, but sadly, their inaccuracies were costing them dearly. Instead, it was their clinical defence and set-pieces that was a hallmark of the Cell C Sharks play, and whilst there was more possession for the home team, they were not finishing off and the errors were mounting.
Around the half hour mark, the Blues conceded another penalty, Joe Pietersen converted and not only were the Blues nnow trailing by eight points, but they lost a real dangerman, Rene Ranger to a knee injury. The Blues, despite their surfeit of possession, just couldn’t build pressure. 15 turnovers conceded told a story of their woes.
George Moala, Ranger’s replacement, had the perfect start, his first touch of the game was his team’s opening try a few minutes shy of half-time, West converted and the Blues were within a point of the Cell C Sharks.
It was the perfect start for the visitors in the second half as Willie le Roux made a half break and fed Paul Jordaan and he turned on the afterburners and streaked the 30m to score his team’s second try, this with less than a minute and a half played. Pietersen converted and the eight point lead was regained.
West struck his second penalty to reduce the margin back to five points as the game headed for the final quarter, and the pressure back on the visitors to maintain their lead.
With travel fatigue a possible factor, wing Reiko Ioane spotted a half gap, beat the defence and raced 50m to score his team’s second try. The conversion from West took the Blues into the lead for the second time in the game.
The Blues managed to hang on and earlier errors disappeared from their game as they managed to play the multiple phase game to maintain possession and hold out for the win.
West kicked a penalty of purely academic proportions after the full-time whistle, but what disappointment from the brave Cell C Sharks who fought right to the very end.
Captain Beast Mtawarira said afterwards that he was proud of the guys, “but there were a couple of soft moments there from us. A slipped tackle and we were under great pressure in the last 10 minutes.”
Tries: George Moala, Rieko Ioane
Conversions: Ihaia West (2)
Penalties: West (3)
Tries: Tendai Mtawarira, Paul Jordaan
Conversion: Joe Pietersen
Penalties: Pietersen (2)
15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Tanerau Latimer/Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Hoani Matenga, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Sam Prattley
Substitutes: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Namatahi Waa, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Kara Pryor/Joe Edwards, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 George Moala
15. Willie le Roux, 14. JP Pietersen, 13. Paul Jordaan, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Joe Pietersen, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Philip van der Walt, 7. Jean-Luc du Preez, 6. Daniel du Preez, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Etienne Oosthuizen, 3. Lourens Adriaanse, 2. Franco Marais, 1. Tendai Mtawarira (captain)
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Thomas du Toit, 18. Coenie Oosthuizen, 19. Hyron Andrews, 20. Keegan Daniel, 21. Michael Claassens, 22. Garth April, 23. Odwa Ndungane