The Cell C Sharks showed promising signs of an encouraging new era as they beat the Jaguares 19-15 in their thrilling Vodacom Super Rugby match at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Satuday night, the scoreline not reflecting the quality of rugby played by the home side.
Humidity and a slick ball are nothing new in Durban in March, but the Sharks’ failure to control the ball better was the major reason for them only winning by four points. Against a quality Jaguares team that showed their experience by handling just about everything thrown at them, including two yellow cards in the space of two minutes, the Sharks returned to basics to beat their highly-rated, star-studded opponents: they used the driving maul to tremendous effect and also dominated the scrums to give themselves a solid set-piece platform.
Considering the quality of the rugby dished out by the Jaguares, whose only weakness would appear to be their dreadful discipline, and the brilliance of some of the rugby produced by the Sharks, only to be undone by a spilt ball, it was actually an inspirational performance by the KwaZulu-Natalians.
The Jaguares can do miraculous things with ball in hand and, after conceding an early penalty to Joe Pietersen, they attacked down the short side, eighthman Leonardo Senatore charging forward and then passing inside for left wing Emiliano Boffelli to score.
Few people would consider the driving maul one of the wonders of the rugby world, but the way the Sharks implemented it on Saturday was truly impressive. Recognising coach Gary Gold’s words during the week that they did not want to get into a running battle with the Jaguares, they reverted to fighting the opposition in the trenches, in the right places, to great effect.
A superb driving maul in the 11th minute led to a try by the remarkable Marcell Coetzee in the 11th minute, regaining the lead for the Sharks.
Jaguares flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez added a penalty four minutes later to level the scores at 10-10, but the power and technical accuracy of the Sharks pack was to the fore again in the 27th minute, earning a penalty, from which a scrum followed and then another penalty which Pietersen kicked (13-10).
The excellence of those two phases of play seemed to have given the Sharks total control as the first half drew to a close as flanks Rodgrigo Baez and Pablo Matera were both yellow-carded in the space of two minutes.
It was obvious that, at 13-10 up, the Sharks needed to take advantage and score to take control of the game.
Instead the tremendous experience, composure and counter-attacking ability of the Jaguares came to the fore. The Sharks lost the ball at a driving mail and the visitors cleared their lines. That meant kicking deep into Sharks territory and, in a tremendous passage of play, fullback Willie le Roux launched a counter-attack, which was taken forward to great effect by wing Odwa Ndungane and eighthman Daniel du Preez charged forward to take the offload but then lost control of the ball.
The swiftness and ruthlessnes of the Jaguares counter-attack was stunning, the sheer pace of fullback Santiago Cordeira carrying him clear of the cover defence as Bofelli cleverly kicked ahead.
It may not be in the nature of this new Sharks side under Gold to play boring, forward-dominated rugby but, to their immense credit, they realised that was what was required in the second half and they fought back with great determination.
The youngsters weren’t afraid to front up to Test players in the trenches up front and the determination paid off as two penalties were earned for the reliable Pietersen to kick and seal a 19-15 victory.
It was by no means pretty or the perfect performance, but the sheer bloody-mindedness and power the Sharks showed augurs well for their campaign.