Pieter-Steyn de Wet scored a 78th-minute try to hand the Kings a thrilling 35-32 win over the Sharks in Port Elizabeth on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
What a contest this was, played with incredible pace and thrilling attacking intent from both sides. Indeed, there was certainly no shortage of entertainment or drama as momentum swung one way and then another, while the lead repeatedly changed hands.
Ultimately, the courageous Kings were fully deserving of victory after producing a performance filled with pace and power. The result was a famous third successive win for the Port Elizabeth-based team, who have just gone from strength to strength in recent weeks.
Lionel Cronjé and late wing replacement Alshaun Bock may well be lauded as the stars for the Kings, but this was simply an immense team effort and a result that should be celebrated as an incredible success story in South African rugby.
A vociferous crowd turned up at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium to throw their support behind the much-improved Kings, and they found their voice early on as the home team made an emphatic start to the contest.
Cronjé, a former Sharks player, first slotted a third-minute penalty before then creating a try for Bock with a perfectly weighted cross-kick, which sent the Kings into a handy eight-point lead.
It left the visitors looking a little shell-shocked, but they gradually worked their way into the contest as they began to show an appreciation for possession, with Pat Lambie slotting two quick-fire penalties as the Kings’ discipline wavered in the face of increasing pressure.
In particular, the Sharks began to reap reward through the direct and physical work of their forwards, and they moved into the lead for the first time when big No 8 Daniel du Preez barged over to score in the 22nd minute.
With the Sharks asserting impressive physicality, while the Kings continued to thrill through their immense pace on attack, it quickly became an enthralling contest to watch. Two moments of magic saw Cronjé slot a well-taken drop goal, before Sharks substitute Garth April struck a superb 55m penalty.
The entertainment in Port Elizabeth wasn’t over yet, though, as Bock then popped up to create a try for Cronjé that sent the Kings into the lead just before the break, while to make matters worse for the Sharks, fullback Rhyno Smith was yellow-carded for a high tackle.
As it was, Lambie was unable to come out to take up his place at flyhalf after the restart as a result of a head knock suffered during the opening stanza. And matters only became more complicated for the visitors as the Kings scored immediately from the kick-off, with Bock breaking away to add a second try in a mesmerising individual performance.
Against all expectations the Kings also continued to dominate at scrum-time, while Sharks coach Rob du Preez responded by making as many as five personnel changes in the 48th minute, which included bringing a whole new front row off the bench.
It did seem to change the tempo of the game as the Sharks upped the intensity, and they reduced the deficit to six points when April slotted a 55th-minute penalty after Kings prop Ross Geldenhuys was yellow-carded for repeated team infringements.
In his absence, the Sharks briefly moved back into the lead when Lwazi Mvovo went over for a well-worked try, but a second penalty to Cronjé put the Kings 28-26 ahead with just over 15 minutes to play.
The result seemed to swing in favour of the Sharks when April slotted two penalties to put the Durban-based side 32-28 ahead with five minutes to play, but then came the match-winning moment as De Wet was put away to score in the corner. It sent the home crowd and the Kings into deserved, joyous celebrations.
Kings – Tries: Alshaun Bock (2), Lionel Cronjé, Pieter-Steyn de Wet. Conversions: Lionel Cronjé (3). Penalties: Lionel Cronjé (2). Drop goal: Cronjé.
Sharks – Tries: Daniel du Preez, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Pat Lambie, Garth April. Penalties: Lambie (2), April (4).
Kings – 15 Masixole Banda, 14 Alshaun Bock, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronjé (c), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Justin Forwood.
Subs: 16 Kurt Haupt/Tango Balekile, 17 Chris Heiberg 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Stefaan Willemse, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet.
Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie (c), 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coeni Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Garth April, 23 Sbu Nkosi.
Photo: Michael Sheehan/Gallo Images