Bismarck du Plessis was at the heart of a fine defensive performance by the Sharks at Ellis Park, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Saturday’s contest was particularly physical, and one in which defence dominated attack.
Both teams made a statement in this respect, with the Lions keeping the Sharks honest during the first stanza. It could be said that the Lions’ defensive efforts were superior during this period, as they spent a lot of time pinned deep in their own half and didn’t enjoy much possession.
That said, they did have a few chances to score. They were ultimately denied by a determined Sharks defence, and more specifically, by the visitors’ stifling efforts at the breakdown.
The Sharks captain led the way in this department. On several occasions, it was Du Plessis who tracked back and then picked the right moment to compete for the ball at the ruck.
In every one of these instances, Du Plessis won his side a penalty. Thus the Lions’ attacking threat was nullified, and the Sharks received an opportunity to boot the ball back down into opposition territory.
This superb exhibition of decision-making and execution served to inspire the other players to lift their standards. The Sharks continued to compete aggressively at the breakdown, and their combined efforts at the tackle stopped the Lions from scoring what would have been a crucial try in the 58th minute.
The Sharks stuck to their defensive task for the full 80 minutes. The same cannot be said for the Lions.
Their discipline at the ruck was poor during the latter stages of this contest, and their tackling and marking in this period was even worse. They conceded far too many metres, and too many penalties. Of the two teams, it was the Sharks that looked more likely to score a try.
Lwazi Mvovo finally obliged with a breathtaking solo effort in the 67th minute. Frans Steyn’s conversion stretched the visitors’ lead to 10 points, and the Sharks were suddenly on course for a comfortable win.
Du Plessis would make another important contribution in the 70th minute, winning yet another breakdown penalty. Steyn converted the opportunity into points, and effectively put the result beyond doubt.
The win sees the Sharks finishing the round at the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby log. There were encouraging signs in this, their first away victory away in 2014, and they will be pleased that they managed to keep a good attacking side like the Lions tryless.
There are aspects of the Sharks’ attack that require refinement, but their defence – which is currently the best in the tournament having only conceded eight tries in seven matches – continues to make a statement.
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