The Sharks overcame a six-point half-time deficit to secure a scrappy 15-9 win over the Force in Durban on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The win lifts the Sharks above the Stormers to the top of the South African conference – a damning indictment of the quality of South African rugby at present. The Sharks didn't deserve to win this, and the fact they emerged victorious was more down to the Force's inept finishing than the Sharks' quality of play.
For large parts of a dour encounter the Sharks were utterly abject, yet second-half tries from SP Marais and Lwazi Mvovo gave them the win and four vital log points.
They may have been missing a number of Springboks, but that's no excuse for the dismal display that was on offer at Kings Park.
It was an error-ridden contest dominated by poor kicking and scrum resets, with very little in the way of goal-line action.
The Sharks' first-half performance was utterly forgettable. To say the halfback pairing of Frans Steyn and Conrad Hoffman were inaccurate in their play would be an understatement, while the few opportunities the Sharks did create were scuppered by poor lineout throws from Kyle Cooper.
It took 30 minutes for the first points of the match. The Force looked to have scored a legitimate try through Ben McCalman, but referee Nick Briant and TMO Marius Jonker decided the evidence wasn't conclusive enough.
As a consolation the Force were awarded a penalty, which Sias Ebersohn slotted, before adding another in the 38th minute to give the Force a 6-0 lead at the break.
There must have been strong words from the Sharks coaching staff at half-time, as it took just two minutes of the second stanza for them to get on the scoreboard, through the lively Marais.
The Force, as they had done in the first half, continued to dominate territory and possession, but a strong Sharks defence kept them at arms length. A 63rd-minute Fred Zeilinga penalty moved the Sharks into the lead, and it was a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Ebersohn had an opportunity to restore the Force's lead, but inexplicably missed his attempt from in front. From the 22m restart, the Sharks turned over the ball, and Marais broke free to release Mvovo for what would be the match-winning try.
It was harsh on the Force, who had made all the play but found themselves down on the scoreboard. A Luke Burton penalty after the hooter ensured they will head back to Australia with a losing bonus point, but they'll know that a first win in Durban was within their grasp, and they let it slip.
Sharks – Tries: SP Marais, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty: Zeilinga.
Force – Penalties: Sias Ebersohn (2), Luke Burton.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Conrad Hoffman, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel (c), 6 Renaldo Bothma, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Waylon Murray.
Force – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Kyle Godwin, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes (c), 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Dane Haylett-Petty.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images