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Cell C Sharks’ maiden season in the Heineken Champions Cup faces its ultimate test on Saturday, when the South African side travel to record five-time winners Stade Toulousain in the quarter-finals.
Not only have the French club lifted the trophy on five occasions, but this season they have won all five of their games – four in Pool B to finish second in that section – and then followed those up with a 33-9 home drubbing of Vodacom Bulls in the Round of 16 last weekend.
Cell C Sharks, meanwhile, had their immaculate Pool A record ended by a 39-29 loss at Harlequins in Round 4, which pushed them down to third, before they recovered in style last weekend with a sensational 50-35 home rout of two-time winners Munster Rugby.
The teams’ first Heineken Champions Cup meeting kicks off at 15:00 UK and Irish time, and can be watched on France TV, beIN SPORTS, SuperSport and FloRugby.
Cell C Sharks director of rugby Neil Powell: “It won’t be easy and we all know that when you get to the knockout stages, you have to be a lot more accurate. There is little room for mistakes and if you do make any, the opposition will punish you for that.”
"I love South Africa" 🇿🇦
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 4, 2023
- Antoine Dupont has made a tournament-high six try assists, including a round-high three last weekend.
- Toulouse have made more offloads than any other team (67).
- Romain Ntamack has made 1,082 metres from penalty kicks – more than any other player.
Cell C Sharks
- Siya Kolisi has made as many offloads as any other player in the competition (11) and more dominant tackles than anyone else (7).
- Jaden Hendrikse has made the most retained kicks in the tournament (14) and the most metres as a support carrier (60).
- The Sharks have the highest rate of gain-line success in the Heineken Champions Cup (63%).
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Cell C Sharks’ maiden Heineken Champions Cup campaign ended in the quarter-finals as Stade Toulousain triumphed 54-20 in a thrilling contest at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Saturday.
The five-time champions produced some breathtaking rugby as Thomas Ramos (2), Juan Cruz Mallía (2), Peato Mauvaka, Arthur Retiere and Romain Ntamack crossed, Ramos’ boot taking his personal haul to a staggering 29 points.
Toulouse’s win sees them book a semi-final at Leinster Rugby, who thrashed Leicester Tigers on Friday, on the weekend of 28/29/30 April.
Cell C Sharks were well in contention for the first hour and notched tries through Grant Williams and Boeta Chamberlain, with Curwin Bosch adding 10 points from the tee, but the semi-finals proved a step too far in the South African side’s debut EPCR season.
After a breathless opening to the game, Toulouse suffered a setback when wing Cruz Mallía was sin-binned for high tackle on Cell C Sharks counterpart Makazole Mapimpi.
🔥 𝓟𝓐𝓒𝓔 🔥
An unreal try for @SharksRugby 🦈
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 8, 2023
Fly-half Bosch put the visitors in front from the resulting penalty, but Toulouse survived the period with a man down, even dotting down through full-back Ramos, though that effort was chalked off by the TMO for a forward pass.
Ramos levelled the scores with a penalty on 22 minutes before Cell C Sharks produced a moment of magic, Bosch dummying and breaking from deep before sending scrum-half Williams under the posts for the game’s first try.
Bosch’s conversion moved his side seven points clear, but Ramos struck from the tee again on 31 minutes, and although he was denied a try brilliantly by Cell C Sharks wing Werner Kok, Toulouse would cross moments later when Cruz Mallía finished superbly in the corner.
Ramos couldn’t add the extras but struck his third penalty on the stroke of half-time to see Toulouse take a 14-10 lead into the second period.
Ramos was off target with a drop-goal attempt early in the second half but he would notch a third try seconds after the restart following his attempt. Cruz Mallía and scrum-half Antoine Dupont combined before the latter unselfishly set up Ramos, who could dot down and add the extras.
Champagne rugby from @StadeToulousain 🥂
They win the ball back, fling it wide and that pass at the end from @Dupont9A was fantastique 😆
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 8, 2023
Cell C Sharks then enjoyed a prolonged period of pressure on the Toulouse line, and just as the home side looked to have survived, full-back Chamberlain straightened and sprinted across in the corner.
Bosch converted from the touchline to reduce the deficit to four points again, but Toulouse responded in style, Cruz Mallía sliding over for his second of the afternoon as he completed a slick counter attack.
Ramos couldn’t add the extras and Cell C Sharks were back within striking distance again when Bosch nudged his second penalty of the game on 66 minutes.
However, Dupont would set up three tries in quick succession as Toulouse ran riot over the closing stages, offloading to hooker Mauvaka from close range before exploiting a tiring Cell C Sharks defence to send Ramos and then replacement wing Retiere over.
Toulouse added a seventh try in the final play as fly-half Ntamack dummied twice and produced a strong hand-off to cross, Ramos capping his Heineken Star of the Match performance with a fifth conversion.