“As A Coach, You Couldn’t Ask For More” – Neil Powell


After dispatching of the visiting Union Bordeaux Bègles at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday, the Cell C Sharks have risen to second place in Pool A of the Heineken Champions Cup and well-placed with one game remaining before the round of 16.

Their 32-3 victory was as emphatic as it was a statement of intent in the competition and with 14 out of a possible 15 log points, have already qualified for the knock-outs.

Cell C Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell, commenting on the game afterwards, paid tribute to the team’s ability to create pressure and dominate the opposition.

“It was a good win and getting five points was important for our journey going forward,” he said. “It was a goal of our to get the bonus point win to go into the next game [against Harlequins in London] with momentum and flow.

“At times it was a bit frustrating because of how scrappy the game became at stages and although there was a bit of rustiness, hopefully we can build on the things that went well going into the Harlequins game.”

A dominant first half was followed up with periods when Bordeaux finally managed to build some momentum of their own, but it was always short-lived or cut down by magnificent defence.

“The flow of a game is often due to the conditions and what the opposition gives you, we were dominant in the first 25-30 minutes and perhaps went out of our structure and attacking shape, making the game a bit too loose which played into Bordeaux’s hands. And that’s what they want, for the game to become scrappy, so it’s something we have will continue to address to be more clinical, to maintain our shape to do keep doing what we ask them to do and not get sucked into the opposition’s plan.”

Amongst Bordeaux’s undoing was earning four yellow cards which didn’t help their cause at all. Powell commented on this, saying, “There was a lot of indiscipline from their side, which made the game difficult and scrappy.”

Game management from his decision-makers also contributed invaluably to the side’s victory, playing in the right areas of the game and keeping Bordeaux pinned in their own half for long periods.

“It’s obviously smart to play to the conditions and know when it’s good to have a go and when it’s not, as well as putting the opposition under pressure with your line-breaks and defence, and that’s what happened. Defensively we were really good, the guys got off the line quickly and put their attack under pressure and we made some good decisions on attack.”

The coaching staff have found themselves with something of a selection headache at scrumhalf where Jaden Hendrikse, Grant Williams and Cameron Wright are all pushing for starts, with Hendrikse earning the Man of the Match award for his outstanding performance.

But Powell admitted that it is a nice headache to have.

“As a coach, you couldn’t ask for more. It’s great for us to have quality scrumhalves and something we’d like to build in our squad is to have at least two quality players per position, so that we can rotate players. We’re very thankful to have that kind of quality in the squad and hopefully it’s something we can keep building in different positions as well.”

Having qualified for a place in the round of 16 knock-outs means little right now, Powell conceded. There’s still a job to do and right now that’s the team’s only focus.

“Whether we made it into the next round or not, that doesn’t affect how we approach this next game,” he admitted. “There’s still a lot to play for which is a home knock-out game, so if we can get more points from Harlequins, that gives us a better opportunity.”

Home ground advantage is always vital, possibly more so in knock-out games and that adds to the importance they attach to this game.

“If you look at the history of this competition, the teams playing at home have a massive advantage, even in the pool games. So it would be a huge advantage for us to be able to play our knock-out games in Durban.”

As far as injuries go, Powell confirmed that, “We’re confident Curwin will be back this weekend after sustaining a minor hamstring complaint in training on Thursday and we didn’t want to risk him.”

Bongi Mbonambi left the field early with a shoulder injury and his injury will be assessed.

“Hopefully he will recover in time to be ready for the Harlequins game.”