By Lucky Maree
It seems that every time any of the Sharks teams run onto the pitch, Neil Powell’s coaching skills are in the spotlight and the match against the Cheetahs is just one of those matches.
Whether Currie Cup, United Rugby Championship or Heineken Cup, his decision to move from Sevens coach to Sharks Director of Rugby is once again on the line.
The Sharks couldn’t have asked for a better start as, after 10 minutes of mostly aerial ping pong, very lively flank Tino Mavesere scores a well-deserved try, converted by Lionel Cronje.
After 30 minutes the play on the field is a lot more interesting than the scoreboard indicates. The Sharks lead by ten after a penalty but twice the Cheetahs create scoring opportunities that go astray through bad luck and the Sharks have a straight run to the poles – but a desperate tackle, no more than an ankle tap, prevents the score.
This is a no quarter given, finals kind of rugby match that bodes well for the South African game.
At 43 minutes the Cheetahs collect a double whammy as the Sharks forwards finally break open the Cheetah’s defence and score a seven-pointer through Fez Mbatha. Jeandre Rudolph collects a yellow card for cynical play from Aimee Barrett-Theron, one of the best referees in the country and one who does not easily hand out cards.
The try that had been escaping the Cheetahs through bad luck and some bad handling finally comes when Sibabalo Qoma goes over. Ruan Pienaar doesn’t convert which may be important when the match ends.
After 50 minutes the Cheetahs finally get their act together in a big way. They start playing that relentless kind of rugby they are known for and their try for Gideon van der Merwe under the poles comes after one grinding phase after another.
Once again Barrett-Theron goes for the card, this time Sharks front-rower Khwezi Mona gets sent off for cynical play.
The Cheetahs are now just five points behind and the upset victory for the Sharks is under threat – until Marco de Wit stretches over the line to score for the Sharks.
With ten minutes to go, the Cheetahs are 12 points behind. It seems like a long way, but then an unconverted try for Louis van der Westhuizen gets them within seven points.
The two conversions that the Cheetahs have missed have cost them dearly.
It is certainly an upset victory, but make no mistake, it is well-deserved for the Sharks. And it does Neil Powell’s reputation a power of good.
Cheetahs (3 tries) 17-24 (3 tries) Sharks.
Pictured above: The Sharks taking on the Cheetahs
Image source: Sharks Rugby