When Jacques Potgieter was red carded in the 43rd minute, the hosts were leading by a point, but they scored almost immediately with warning lights going on for the Free Staters.
They deserve a lot of credit for never giving up and in the end, with the Cell C Sharks reduced to 13 men with two yellow cards in quick succession, the Toyota Cheetahs could still salvage a draw, but it wasn’t to be as the hosts scored at crucial times to keep the scoreboard ticking over and maintaining a two-score lead for most of the second half.
Dylan Richardson led their charge with a busy afternoon, keeping his side on the front foot with some strong runs, and working hard on defence, while the Cell C Sharks also ensured they played most of the game in the Toyota Cheetahs’ half, making life difficult for the visitors.
The first half was quite an even affair as both sides showed some attacking intent from early on – Evardi Boshoff went over for the Free Staters after seven minutes, while Thaakir Abrahams responded for the hosts in the 12th minute.
Two penalty goals by Brandon Thomson increased the Toyota Cheetahs’ lead from 7-5 to 13-5, but two tries in four minutes, by the Cell C Sharks’ Kerron van Vuuren and Henco Venter – both from set piece play – put the Durbanites in the lead late in the half.
A try by Craig Barry shortly before the break made it a one-point game (19-18) as the teams took a rest.
Potgieter’s indiscretion came early in the second half and although the Toyota Cheetahs hung on, they struggled to contain the KwaZulu-Natalians, with a man extra for all of 37 minutes.
Cameron Wright scored straight away for the Cell C Sharks and although Thomson clawed three points back for the visitors and Cameron Dawson scored a try from an attacking lineout, Van Vuuren and Abrahams got their second tries midway through the half to put the hosts firmly in control as the clock wound down.
Venter, who captained the Cell C Sharks on the day, and Emile van Heerden were sin-binned late in the match after being warned about repeated infringements, which gave the Free Staters a sniff as they suddenly had the numerical advantage.
It paid off with less than two minutes left when Robert Ebersohn, back with the Toyota Cheetahs after eight seasons abroad, went over in the corner, but that was as good as it got for the visitors who got two points from the game, while the Cell C Sharks bagged five.
Cell C Sharks 38 (19) – Tries: Thaakir Abrahams (2), Kerron van Vuuren (2), Henco Venter, Cameron Wright. Conversions: Boeta Chamberlain (3), Lionel Cronje.
Toyota Cheetahs 31 (18) – Tries: Evardi Boshoff, Craig Barry, Cameron Dawson, Robert Ebersohn. Conversion: Brandon Thomson. Penalty goals: Thomson (3).