The Sharks claimed an unconvincing 40-29 win against the Sunwolves in Durban on Friday to book their place in the Super Rugby quarter-finals. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result at Kings Park sees the Sharks advancing to the next round. The Durban-based side has moved six points clear of the Bulls on the South African group log in this the final round of the conference stage. Even if the Bulls claim a bonus-point win against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday, they will fall short of playoff qualification.
That said, the Sharks will not go into the playoffs with a great deal of confidence. While they put six tries past the Sunwolves on Friday, they conceded four. A late lapse at the death cost the hosts a bonus point.
The Sharks played well in patches. They scored two tries in the first five minutes to take control of the game. When skipper JP Pietersen, in his final home game for the Sharks, added a third and Garth April kicked the conversion, the hosts looked to be on course for an emphatic win.
It was at this point where the Sharks lost their way. The Sunwolves controlled possession well in the second quarter, and finished that period strongly to trail 21-19 at the break. The visitors impressed at the collisions and secured possession from their own set pieces. Indeed, it was a great lineout on the stroke of half-time that provided the Sunwolves with the chance to strike and score.
The Sharks started the second stanza well, with centre André Esterhuizen rounding off some enterprising play. However, they failed to build on that, and for a long time the Sunwolves remained in sight of a big upset win.
Perhaps the Sunwolves came into this contest with more modest ambitions. At the start of the round, the Japanese side and the Kings were level in terms of log points (nine). The Kings were, however, one position higher on the South African group log by virtue of their superior number of wins. The Sunwolves needed to claim a losing bonus point, at least, from the fixture against the Sharks.
In the 60th minute, Yu Tamura kicked a penalty goal to bring the Sunwolves back within six points of the Sharks. The visitors did well to pressure the Sharks defence and force the penalty.
April then produced two pieces of attacking brilliance to take the game away from the Sunwolves. The Sharks flyhalf scored a fine individual try, and then produced a perfectly weighted chip kick to set up Curwin Bosch for another five-pointer. At that point, the Sharks were in a position to claim a bonus-point win.
But the Sunwolves had the final say. Mifiposeti Paea crashed over for his second try of the evening to ensure the Japanese side finished the game, and their first Super Rugby campaign, on a positive note.
Nevertheless, it was not enough to earn the Sunwolves a losing bonus point. Even if the Kings claim no log points from their final conference match against the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday, they will finish ahead of the Sunwolves at the foot of the overall table.
Sharks – Tries: Coenie Oosthuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, JP Pietersen, André Esterhuizen, Garth April, Curwin Bosch. Conversions: April (5).
Sunwolves – Tries: Kaito Shigeno, Mifiposeti Paea (2), Faatiga Lemalu. Conversions: Yu Tamura (3). Penalty: Tamura.
Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen (c), 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Tera Mtembu, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stefan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Heimar Williams.
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Hajime Yamashita, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Mifiposeti Paea, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura,10 Yu Tamura (c), 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Edward Quirk, 7 Taiyo Ando, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Faatiga Lemalu, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Futoshi Mori, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Naohiro Kotaki, 20 Yoshiya Hosoda, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Ryohei Yamanaka, 23 Kentaro Kodama.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images