Cape Town — The Sharks produced their most courageous performance since the arrival of director of rugby Neil Powell as they repelled wave after wave of attacks from Edinburgh in the last 15 minutes to earn a deserved 22-19 victory on Saturday night.
Replacement tighthead prop Carlu Sadie’s yellow card in the 67th minute for a dangerous ruck clean-out put the visitors under the pump with 14 men, but the Sharks were not to be denied.
The Cell C Sharks showed their grit in the closing stages to beat Edinburgh 19-22 👏 pic.twitter.com/HnCRXKlXTI
— SuperSport 🏆 (@SuperSportTV) January 28, 2023
Loosehead prop Ox Nche and fullback Aphelele Fassi – the Man of the Match – led the way with a number of carries and brilliant tackles in the closing stages, while lock Gerbrandt Grobler also starred with numerous crucial lineout steals.
Edinburgh went all the way to seven minutes after the hooter to grab the win as they opted to go to touch from several penalties instead of securing a 22-22 draw, but it was not to be as they were pushed back from the 22.
The thrilling finish was a far cry from the opening 20 minutes as the Sharks came out firing, scoring two tries for a 14-0 lead.
They claimed their opening touchdown in the sixth minute when livewire scrumhalf Grant Williams snatched a long pass from Edinburgh flyhalf Charlie Savala for an intercept try, and that set the tone for the visitors.
The rush defence worked a treat as they took time and space away from the normally free-flowing Edinburgh attack, with double hits in defence from the forwards as well.
The Sharks almost scored again in the 13th minute when Fassi’s kick downfield was chased by speedy left wing Thaakir Abrahams, but he knocked-on as he tried to pick it up just short of the line as he was tackled by Edinburgh captain Mark Bennett.
That was soon followed by one of the highlights of the match when Nche – who produced his finest display in a Sharks jersey – charged down the left touchline and found Williams on his inside, but the No 9 was tackled just before the whitewash.
But after Edinburgh wing Wes Goosen was yellow-carded for a cynical ruck infringement, the Sharks’ second touchdown duly arrived as right wing Marnus Potgieter dived over following a five-metre scrum and superb offload in the tackle from Fassi.
But despite climbing in physically, the Sharks lost their grip on the game, with Ediburgh scoring three tries before halftime for an unexpected 19-14 lead at the break.
Hooker Adam McBurney came up with two five-pointers, with the first a flowing move with multiple offloads, and the second from a maul after a wonderful 50-22 touch-finder from fullback Henry Immelman that levelled matters at 14-14.
South African No 15 Immelman – who will join the Bulls next season – then dotted down himself after Sharks centre Ben Tapuai knocked-on in the opposition half, and suddenly it was 19-14.
The Durbanites showed better control in the second half as they got stuck into the territory battle with the boot, with a number of smart box-kicks and long-range punts.
Flyhalf Curwin Bosch narrowed the gap to 19-17 with an early penalty, and despite him missing a 58-metre attempt at the posts on the hour mark, the Sharks regained the lead when hooker Kerron van Vuuren scored from a driving maul.
They almost secured the victory a few minutes later when replacement loosehead Ntuthuko Mchunu charged over, but he was held up over the line.
Gutsy performance from the Cell C @SharksRugby and they head home victorious. 🦈@Vodacom #URC | #EDIvSHA pic.twitter.com/59eGpBPKHx
— Vodacom United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial_RSA) January 28, 2023
That proved to be a big miss, as Sadie received a yellow card from New Zealand referee James Doleman for a ‘croc-roll’ clean-out at a breakdown that was deemed dangerous.
The Sharks were stretched in defence and went into warrior mode for the rest of the game, and their cohesion, tenacity and organisation was a sight to behold as they kept Edinburgh at bay – with Fassi making a try-saving tackle and driving an opponent backwards from the line on another occasion.
The Scottish club kept on going for touch with a series of late penalties instead of taking the draw, but it turned out to be the wrong choice as the Sharks held on for a remarkable triumph.
Edinburgh 19 – Tries: Adam McBurney (2), Henry Immelman. Conversions: Charlie Savala (2).
Sharks 22 – Tries: Grant Williams, Marnus Potgieter, Kerron van Vuuren. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalty: Bosch (1).