A late try by Jean Deysel settled a tense affair as the Cell C Sharks underlined their spot as VodaSuper Rugby leaders with a tough 19-8 victory over the Toyota Cheetahs in Durban on Saturday.
Deysel surged over the line in the 71st minute to score his first ever Super Rugby try – one that will go down in memory banks after a beautiful break by Tim Swiel to set up the ruck and some good work by SP Marais to take it forward before the hard-working flanker got his due.
It may be a tad ironic that Deysel scored his first try in his 60th Super Rugby game – in the same week he announced he had signed for Japanese club Toyota Verblitz – as the Sharks dug themselves out of a hole and won a tense game against a Cheetahs side that was more than competitive on the day.
After their lapses in defence against the Crusaders and the Chiefs, the Cheetahs were expected to lie down and roll over in front of the all-conquering Sharks, but were in the game until Deysel’s try and had it not been for some poor options and handling errors, may well have stolen the game away from the Sharks.
The match also heralded the return of Springbok flanker Heinrich Brussow, who made his presence felt with no less than a massive 18 tackles and four big turnovers as he announced in a big way he was back and looking for his Springbok jersey.
But other than a few telling blows, it was an arm wrestle for most of the first half as both sides probed but didn’t receive the reward for their hard work, with the game precariously poised at 3-3, with errors, rather than running rugby dominating the match.
But at least in the second half it came alive as the Sharks decided rather to use Frans Steyn as their goalkicker in the second half and it had immediate effect as he slotted three penalties, all from some excellent scrummaging from Tendai Mtawarira to push the score to 12-3.
The Cheetahs lost Brussow to a yellow card – for slowing down the ball rather cynically – before they had some luck come their way to bring them straight back into the match with a try to Rayno Benjamin.
Steyn’s clearance kick was charged down by Hennie Daniller, and the bounce was fortune, landing right in front of Benjamin as he collected and dotted down to bring the Cheetahs within four points.
Elgar Watts’ conversion fell under the crossbar but it was enough to signal the Cheetahs hadn’t given up their fight for victory even though they were losing the breakdown and the setpiece battle.
When Deysel barged over it ended the game as a contest, giving the Sharks just enough of a lead to hold onto and collect the four points from a game they easily could have lost.
Still, by building an innings they maintained their lead at the top of the Super Rugby log and cemented their spot as the favourite side to win both the South African conference and perhaps even challenge for the title.
And while the game may not be remembered as a spectacle, at least for the Cheetahs it wasn’t the high-scoring defensive lapses of their past few games, and they were in the game for a long time.
But in a season of what-could-have-been, it will be scant reward as the Sharks continue to march forward on their impressive 2014 season under Jake White thus far.
Try. Jean Deysel. Conversion:Frans Steyn. Penalties: Tim Swiel, Frans Steyn(2).
Try: Rayno Benjamin. Penalty: Elgar Watts.