Lukhanyo Am scored a try after the hooter to earn the Sharks a 12-9 win over the Stormers and a place in the playoffs. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result sees the Sharks progressing to the quarter-finals. The Stormers, however, will not feature in the playoffs after finishing the conference stage outside the top eight.
The game was decided in injury time. The Sharks kept on coming at the Stormers, and eventually it was Springbok centre Am who scored the try to win the game and propel his team into the playoffs.
The Sharks enjoyed most of the possession and territory during the initial stages. While they had the means to dominate at the gainline, they lacked the imagination and tactical variation to unlock the Stormers’ defence. The hosts hung on, making 60 tackles in the first 11 minutes.
The Sharks eventually scored against the run of play in the 29th minute. Flyhalf Josh Stander threw a flat pass that struck the knee of reserve back Rhyno Smith, who had timed this intercepting run to perfection. Smith regathered the ball and then proceeded to race more than 70m to score.
Both sides were guilty of poor handling and decision-making. The Sharks spurned a host of attacking chances. Bongi Mbonambi made life difficult for the Stormers when he thrust a forearm into the throat of Sharks scrumhalf Louis Schreuder and earned a yellow card.
The Stormers did well to survive the period of sanction, while the Sharks continued to drop the ball at crucial times. The visitors held a slender 5-3 lead at the break.
Stander slotted a penalty after half time to regain the lead for the Stormers. The Sharks remained in the contest, but struggled to make any significant inroads into the hosts’ defence.
The Stormers looked to be on course for an ugly yet important win. The Sharks kept their composure at the death, however, and then Am made the most of his opportunity to steal the result.
Stormers – Penalties: Josh Stander (2), Jean-Luc du Plessis.
Sharks – Tries: Rhyno Smith, Lukhanyo Am. Conversion: Rob du Preez.
Stormers – 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Josh Stander, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (c).
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Jean-Luc du Plessis 23 Dan Kriel.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola.
Subs: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 TBC, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Zee Mkhabela, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images