The hosts scored four tries to two but it was a tough match against the pace-setters in the competition, who showed great grit with a team without of the most of their experienced players, clearly underlining the incredible depth at their disposal.
It was very close though as Leinster, trailing by five points and hot on the attack for the last few minutes, were held up over the Cell C Sharks’ tryline in injury time, with the hosts defence denying the visitors a dramatic win.
Full credit to the KwaZulu-Natalians, who will probably feel they could have sealed the result earlier in the match after they dominated the set pieces and made many telling line breaks, without getting points on the board.
The Cell C Sharks made all the early play but had nothing to show for it after Curwin Bosch (flyhalf) fluffed two penalty attempts and they lost the ball with the tryline begging, after which they were made to pay as Leinster scored the first try of the game – during their first foray into the hosts’ half – when Scott Penny (flanker) crashed over.
Three minutes later though, Springbok speedster Makazole Mapimpi gave the big crowd something to cheer about with a brilliant intercept try from a move that came from an attacking Leinster lineout. This time Bosch was on song and the scores were tied at 7-7 midway through the first half.
Cian Frawley (centre) added a penalty goal to his earlier conversion before Tommy O’Brien (wing) scored a beautiful try from a pin-point cross-kick to give the visitors a 10-point cushion late in the first half.
But the Cell C Sharks were not done yet and Springbok fullback Aphelele Fassi ran a superb line from a kick return before putting Jaden Hendrikse away for a try that they had been threatening to score on a few occasions. Bosch’s extras saw the teams go into the sheds for half-time with the visitors leading by 17-14.
Frawley kicked an early second-half penalty goal to extend his team’s lead to six points, but a 48th minute maul try by Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who was named Man of the Match, put the Cell C Sharks in the lead for the first time.
It was short-lived though as Frawley added his third penalty goal five minutes later. Leinster’s discipline was beginning to let them down though and with two of their players in the sin bin midway through the second half, the hosts had a few opportunities to score, but failed to finish.
Finally Phepsi Buthelezi did what was needed as he crashed over from an attacking scrum, the Cell C Sharks No 8 shooting off the back with lightning quick speed to put his team back in the lead with 15 minutes to go.
Both teams tried their best to grab another try but it wasn’t to be, although Leinster got very close at the death, only to be denied on a night that belonged to the Cell C Sharks.
Cell C Sharks 28 (14) – Tries: Makazole Mapimpi, Jaden Hendrikse, Bongi Mbonambi, Phepsi Buthelezi. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (4).
Leinster 23 (17) – Tries: Scott Penny, Tommy O’Brien. Conversions: Ciaran Frawley (2). Penalty goals: Frawley (2).