Having not featured in the competition since their 32-31 loss to Western Province a few weeks ago due to match cancellations and back-to-back battles against the British & Irish Lions, Sean Everitt’s men emerged from the Carling Currie Cup shadows and issued a reminder of their championship quality as they halted their hosts’ two-match winning streak.
Flyhalf Curwin Bosch starred for the visitors, scoring 22 points in a complete performance to steer his side to their first win in the City of Roses since 2018 and the top of the standings.
The Cell C Sharks played with great intensity, a by-product of their aforementioned showdowns with the touring Northern Hemisphere all-stars, and took their opportunities to put five tries past the Toyota Cheetahs.
Rosko Specman, back from a stint with the DHL Stormers and his time with the Springboks, was phenomenal for the hosts and made an immediate impact with a big tackle from the kick-off, which led to the visitors conceding a penalty, but captain Ruan Pienaar shanked his kick at goal.
The first line break of the match by centre Siya Masuku provided the momentum for the opening try, which saw centre David Brits execute a deft grubber for Specman to dot down in the sixth minute. Again, Pienaar’s radar was off. Both teams struggled with their discipline early on but it was the hosts who paid the price as Pienaar was sent packing in the 16th minute for killing the ball.
Strong, aggressive defence and a vital turnover by Aluluthu Tshakweni allowed the hosts to repel the first wave of attack but the visitors were in moments later through the ever-present Werner Kok, who burst clear from a ruck after a memorable break by loosehead prop Ntuthuko Mchunu. Bosch popped over the easy conversion to put his team in the lead at the close of the first quarter.
Moonlighting at scrumhalf with Pienaar still serving his 10 minutes in the sin bin, Specman made a scintillating break from the back of a scrum that pressured the Cell C Sharks into a penalty infringement. Flyhalf Brandon Thomson stepped up to slot a long-range penalty to regain the lead for the Toyota Cheetahs.
The men in Black and White hit back in style as Bosch linked up with Marnus Potgieter on a kick-return. The rookie wing blasted past three defenders and pulled the last man before offloading to scrumhalf Grant Williams, who ran in unopposed under the posts to make it 14-8 after 30 minutes.
A returning Pienaar and Bosch traded penalty goals before a hot-stepping Thaakir Abrahams - who eluded four would-be tacklers - and exceptional handing led to a stunning and timely seven-pointer by Anthony Volmink, which gave the Cell C Sharks a 24-11 lead at half-time.
A shotgun start to the second half by the visitors enabled Bosch to stretch the lead to 16 in the 43rd minute. With the game slipping away, the Toyota Cheetahs needed to score next and did through Thomson, who sidestepped and went over after a counter-rucking turnover. Pienaar added the extras to close the gap to 27-18.
The fightback continued as Masuku set off on a magnificent counter-attacking run to leave the Cell C Sharks scrambling. Quick ball to Clayton Blommetjies saw the fullback stab a grubber through and Duncan Saal finished superbly for an unconverted try.
Bosch cooled the Toyota Cheetahs down with an offload that freed up Mchunu, with the big man rumbling ahead before sending Williams away for his second, which Bosch converted. The champagne rugby continued to flow as a piece of pure “Speckmagic” made it 34-30, the red-hot Specman blazing over for his brace and replacement flyhalf Reinhardt Fortuin slotting the conversion.
A composed and clinical Cell C Sharks side stayed in control and after Bosch had slotted a booming penalty goal, hooker Kerron van Vuuren scored a converted try from the back of a driving maul to push the lead out to 44-30 with nine minutes remaining.
A final three-pointer by Bosch capped off an impressive afternoon by the flyhalf and the KwaZulu-Natalians.
Toyota Cheetahs 30 (11) – Tries: Rosko Specman (2), Brandon Thomson, Duncan Saal. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar, Reinhardt Fortuin. Penalty goals: Thomson, Pienaar.
Cell C Sharks 47 (24) – Tries: Werner Kok, Grant Williams (2), Anthony Volmink, Kerron van Vuuren. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (5). Penalty goals: Bosch (4).