03 Feb 2018

South Africa’s Cell C Sharks warmed up for their Super Rugby opener against the Lions in two weeks with a strong showing in a 31-14 win over Racing 92 in Saturday’s Natixis Cup at Aberdeen.

The Sharks showed plenty of endeavour, throwing the ball about and bringing players into the game.

“It is a positive for us getting the win and working out a few parts of our game plan,” captain Ruan Botha said. “We’re looking forward to what is lying ahead, the Super Rugby campaign coming up and we’re just focussing on that now.

“It’s always good to get a good hit-out early in the season. That’s going to be a focus for us, just getting the ball around and not slowing the game down too easily.”

After a bit of a slow start to the game, winger Makazola Mapimpi opened the scoring for the Sharks, dotting down in the corner to bring the 5,800-strong crowd to life.

The Sharks forward pack established an edge as the first half wore on and their second try came through centre Marius Louw after some clever passing, with Robert du Preez converting to make it 12- 0.

The Sharks showed they were not afraid to offload and Racing warmed to their task, however the scoring dried up and the most exciting piece of action for a time was a heated scuffle as the teams headed for the break with the score remaining at 12-0.

Things heated up in the second half, with centre Lukhanyo Am and winger Kobus van Wyk combining brilliantly to send Louw over for his second try as the score moved to 19-0.

Racing finally sprung to life, hitting the scoreboard through a bulldozing effort from So’otala Fa’aso’o, with Antoine Gibert’s conversion dragging the margin back to 12 points.

The Sharks continued to fling the ball around, at times risking turnovers, but it paid off when scrum half Cameron Wright crossed as the score moved to 24-7 entering the last quarter of the match.

Racing launched one of their most exciting plays 26 minutes into the second half, with reserve forward Edwin Maka busting through the Sharks’ defence to give his side the momentum.

Racing kept Sharks pinned to their line through a host of phases, eventually breaking through for a try to Xavier Chauveau, which was converted by Franck Pourteau to make it 24-14 as time ticked away.

It was the Sharks who had the last laugh, however, with Lwazi Mvovo releasing Curwin Bosch to score, with Bosch also slotting the conversion.

“That was a tough game, we expected a very hungry Sharks team with their season coming up in two weeks,” Racing 92 winger Joe Rokocoko said.

“I think it was just about getting some of the young boys that haven’t been involved with us for a long time, to get to know them a bit more. It was a good team-building week.”

Hong Kong’s Matt Worley worked his way into the game after a nervy start that saw the 20-year old making his first start for Racing since joining the academy three seasons ago tested under the high ball.

As he has done all tour, Worley soaked up the environment to the full.

“It was huge. The physicality of that game and the speed that they were playing at was above what I was expecting,” Worley said.

“It was a huge eye-opener. The first five minutes were quite scary, but later in the game I felt more comfortable, it was a great experience.”

Racing 92 squad for the Natixis Cup:

1. Vasil Kakovin, 2. Ole Avei, 3. Luc Ducalcon 4. Manuel Carizza, 5. Patricio Albacete, 6 Antonie Claassen, 7. Baptiste Chouzenoux, 8. Sootala Fa’Aso’o, 9. Teddy Iribaren, 10. Antoine Gibert, 11. Juan Imhoff, 12. Albert Vulivuli, 13. Leonard Paris, 14. Joe Rokocoko, 15. Matthew Worley, 16. Viliamu Afatia, 17. Luka Goginava 18. Edwin Maka, 19. Boris Palu, 20. Xavier Chauveau, 21. Franck Pourteau 22. Anthony Tuituavake, 23. Census Johnston, 24. Marc Andreu, 25. Benjamin Dambielle, 26. Louis Dupichot, 27. Esteban Abadie.

Cell C Sharks squad for the Natixis Cup 2018:

1. Juan Schoeman, 2. Franco Marais, 3. Thomas du Toit, 4. Ruan Botha ©️, 5. Stephan Lewies, 6. Philip van der Walt, 7. Jacques Vermeulen, 8. Keegan Daniel, 9. Cameron Wright, 10. Robert du Preez (vice-captain), 11. Makazola Mapimpi, 12. Marius Louw, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 14. Kobus van Wyk, 15. Lwazi Mvovo, 16. Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17. Mzamo Majola, 18. John-Hubert Meyer, 19. Hyron Andrews, 20. Tyler Paul, 21. Lubabalo “Tera” Mtembu, 22. Grant Williams, 23. Curwin Bosch, 24. Jeremy Ward 25. Sbusiso Nkosi, 26. Garth April.