“We Feel We Are Moving In The Right Direction” – Neil Powell


Getting their Heineken Champions Cup campaign off to a winning start was the ideal way for the Cell C Sharks to begin the competition as they saw off a strong challenge from Harlequins at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday.

Cell C Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell, reflecting on his team’s 39-31 victory admitted how important it was to get the tournament off on a winning note.

“A positive result in this first game was obviously important, with only four games in your pool,” he explained. “It’s vital that you get positive results, especially you home games because if you slip up here [at Hollywoodbets Kings Park] it’s going to be tough getting into the knock-out stages.

“Performance-wise, it was a massive step up from the team, and if our performances are good, we will get the results. For me, I felt we controlled the game well in the first half and generally we were a lot more clinical in this game, showed more respect for the ball on attack, holding on to possession and getting through the phases.

“At times in the first half we weren’t as disciplined as we would like to be and that put us under pressure, but hopefully we’ll show more discipline for our next game against Bordeaux away.”

When the Cell C Sharks were reduced to 13 men, it was a period of the game when Harlequins were able to capitalise on the numbers advantage with three tries that reduced the margin to just one point, setting up a thrilling climax to the game.

“Unfortunately the yellow and red cards in the second half put us under pressure.

“It does make it difficult [to have a player red carded] against a team that is attacking well from scrums, and having a player off the field is always going to make it challenging. That’s tough with one player off, when you have two, it’s even more tricky and they will attack space out wide or at the back where you don’t have numbers.”

Casting his eyes specifically on an aspect of the game where his team was dominant – the set-pieces – Powell admitted that, “Part of our plan, because we know Harlequins is a good attacking team, was to try to stop their attacking platform and to do that, it was important to show dominance in the scrums and lineouts and try to prevent them from getting their attack going.

“It’s great to have the experience of the Springbok guys, Ox and Bongi in the front row, Eben in the lineout and this is something we’ve worked really hard on. So it’s great to have the players who have the ability to put pressure on the opposition.”

Although it’s early in the competition, when you add in the fact that the Cell C Sharks have also been involved in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, Powell believes the team is on the right trajectory.

“We feel we are moving in the right direction, although there are things we can do better and we’ll identify them before the next game. We will need to show better discipline and there are other areas of our game we would like to improve on before Friday night’s game.

“But the amazing thing about this team is that all the individuals are making a step up and doing what we expect of them.”