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Cell C Sharks make their Heineken Champions Cup bow on Saturday with a tough opening fixture against Tabai Matson’s Harlequins at Hollywoodbets Kings Park.
Cell C Sharks will face a stern test from a Quins side looking for an historic victory, having won their last three Gallagher Premiership fixtures to sit third in the table.
The away team will be looking to improve on last season’s Heineken Champions Cup campaign, when they were edged out by Montpellier Hérault Rugby, losing by a single point on aggregate in the Round of 16.
The South African side welcome Quins to Durban for the first time as they look to follow up on a quarter-final in their maiden United Rugby Championship (URC) season with a strong Heineken Champions Cup showing.
The Pool A contest kicks off at 13:00 (UK & Irish time) and will be shown on BT Sport, beIN SPORTS, SuperSport and FloRugby.
🇿🇦 Bryan Habana
🏴 Manu Tuilagi
🇳🇿 Richie McCaw
Just a few individuals that our #HeinekenChampionsCup players respect, the list goes on 👇 pic.twitter.com/AlRgQmmC2h
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 7, 2022
Yaw Penxe (Cell C Sharks): “The Harlequins fans were sending messages about getting tickets weeks ago already, so it’s going to be big, and Durban loves rugby. There is [a buzz around the Champions Cup].It’s obviously coming up now in a week or so, so there is a lot of excitement.”
Stephan Lewies (Harlequins): “Our goal is to get further in the competition. It will be tough playing the Cell C Sharks and Racing 92, but I think as soon as you get to a quarter-final then anything is possible so that will be our goal, to get to a quarter or a semi. Then it’s just on the day- in a Heineken Champions Cup you’ll always be up for it.”
Cell C Sharks
- The Heineken Champions Cup debutants are the most challenging side in the BKT URC to scrummage against. Their opposition have averaged just an 80% success rate at scrum time in the league this season.
- The form of the Cell C Sharks in Durban has been mixed so far this season: they have alternated between losses and wins, now with two of each.
- Harlequins No 8 Alex Dombrandt made more try assists in last season’s Heineken Champions Cup than any other forward (five). He also made the most clean breaks (seven).
- Quins wrecking ball centre, André Esterhuizen, made the most dominant carry contacts last season with 16.
- In the maul, Harlequins finished their 2021/22 campaign with a competition-high 97% ball retention rate.
- In the opposition 22, Quins scored a try or won a penalty more often than any other side in last season’s Heineken Champions Cup, achieving one of these positive outcomes with 29% of their red zone entries.
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Cell C Sharks earned their maiden Heineken Champions Cup victory in a thrilling 39-31 win over Harlequins at the Hollywoodbets Kings Park in Durban on Saturday afternoon.
Makazole Mapimpi notched a brace for the hosts in a five-try performance, Bongi Mbonambi, Werner Kok and Boeta Chamberlain also crossing the whitewash in a historic afternoon for South African club rugby.
Harlequins played their part, Josh Bassett and André Esterhuizen dotting down twice each for the visitors in addition to a solo effort by Will Evans. They took advantage of a yellow card for Cell C Sharks’ Mbonambi and a red card for Ox Uché to produce a tense finale.
What 👏 A 👏 Moment 👏
Boeta Chamberlain scores in the final minutes to give @SharksRugby a hard-fought victory in their #HeinekenChampionsCup debut!
The first victory for a South African team in the competition 🥇 pic.twitter.com/2hhaGwPub9
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 10, 2022
It was Harlequins who opened the scoring after a series of lineouts deep in Cell C Sharks territory. After the rolling maul was thwarted on the right flank, Quins switched play the entire width of the field with Nick David finding Bassett on the extreme left to touch down. Tommy Allan added the conversion
Cell C Sharks responded within the opening quarter of an hour with a powerful maul off the back of a lineout, Mbonambi dotting down in the corner. Curwin Bosch added the extras before kicking a long-range penalty to give the hosts a 10-7 lead.
Mapimpi added Cell C Sharks’ second try of the afternoon with a delightful solo run and finished under the posts, again Bosch competent with the conversion from the tee.
A wonderfully worked set piece saw Mapimpi dot down for a second time. Scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse backhanded the ball to the wing off the back of a scrum, Mapimpi untouched as he crossed the whitewash.
Harlequins responded with a late first-half try from flanker Will Evans – he rumbled over off the back of a well worked rolling maul by the visitors, the score 22-14 at the interval.
Cell C Sharks added to their lead ten minutes into the second period when Kok lofted a ball over the Harlequins defensive line and dotted down in the corner himself.
The hosts then got themselves in card trouble with Mbonambi sent to the sin bin after persistent penalties and Nché sent off for a dangerous tackle.
That set the stage for Esterhuizen, who notched two tries in five minutes to get Harlequins back into the contest. Just as Quins looked like they were going to complete an unlikely comeback, Chamberlain crossed for the hosts to end the tie as a contest in the final minute.
Sharks travel to France to take on Union Bordeaux-Begles in round two on Friday evening, while Harlequins play host to French opposition themselves when they welcome Racing 92 to Twickenham Stoop next Sunday.
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