The Sharks produced one of their best performances of the season to beat the Highlanders 38-12 at Kings Park on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The Sharks, who had a bye last weekend, came into this match occupying 11th spot on the overall log and in desperate need of a win to keep their quarter-final hopes alive. And they achieved it in emphatic fashion, outscoring their Kiwi opponents by five tries to two.
The five log points take the Durban-based franchise up to eighth on the overall log, one point ahead of the Stormers, who beat the Bulls earlier in the day.
The Sharks made the perfect start to the game when Cameron Wright’s box kick into the Highlanders’ half was brilliantly taken in the air by Ruan Botha, who outjumped Lima Sopoaga. The lock passed inside to Akker van der Merwe, with the hooker sprinting 22m to score next to the posts after just 36 seconds.
The Sharks should have scored again in the fifth minute, but André Esterhuizen lost the ball over the tryline after bouncing off Waisake Naholo.
However, the hosts did make it 14-0 soon after, when a good draw and pass from Beast Mtawarira and quick hands from Rob du Preez put Makazole Mapimpi into space. The wing got through the attempted tackle of Sopoaga to score in the left-hand corner.
The Highlanders slowly got back into the game and hit back with a try from a lineout driving maul to Dillon Hunt in the 27th minute. Sopoaga slotted the conversion.
Rob du Preez made it 17-7 with his first penalty goal, but the hosts would turn down a probable three points late in the half to push for a try. The gamble didn’t pay off, though, as Botha was penalised for a shoulder charge on Sopoaga at a ruck.
The Sharks almost started the second half like they did the first, when Rob du Preez’s perfectly-timed pass put Esterhuizen through a gap. He found Mapimpi on the left wing, who was tackled into touch by Naholo just before the tryline.
They did get their third converted try soon after, though, when Rob du Preez threw a lob pass to Mapimpi, who tapped the ball back inside to Lukhanyo Am. The outside centre took play into the Highlanders’ 22, drew Ben Smith and put Dan du Preez away.
Rob du Preez had a hand, or rather a foot, in the Sharks’ next try too, with his grubber kick into the dead-ball area being chased down by Sbu Nkosi. The flyhalf nailed the touchline conversion to make it 31-7 after 62 minutes.
The Sharks weren’t done yet, though. Curwin Bosch received a kick inside his half, stepped Naholo and cut through the defence. While Naholo raced back to tackle Bosch, the fullback got the ball away in the tackle to Rob du Preez, who dived over the line.
Tei Walden scored a late consolation try for the Highlanders, but they were unable to get another that would have taken the bonus point away from the Sharks.
Sharks – Tries: Akker van der Merwe, Makazole Mapimpi, Dan du Preez, Sbu Nkosi, Rob du Preez. Conversions: Rob du Preez (5). Penalty: Rob du Preez.
Highlanders – Tries: Dillon Hunt, Tei Walden. Conversion: Lima Sopoaga.
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Sio Tomkinson, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Matt Faddes.
Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix