The Sharks moved back into conference contention with a 27-10 bonus-point victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, reports BRENTON CHELIN.
It was a game the Sharks daren't lose, and they played as such. There was no hint of the expansive ball-in-hand approach that's been touted by their coaches. Instead, they reverted to their forward-oriented, safety-first tactics and made off with a vital victory.
They showed that when they get things right, they're a difficult side to stop, although next weekend's home match against the Chiefs will prove a much sterner test of their current level.
The Sharks made two changes to their front row after being humiliated at Newlands last weekend, and the recalled Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira provided a steady platform, while Marcell Coetzee produced another industrious display on the side of the scrum.
Meanwhile, the Cheetahs were dealt a big blow prior to kick-off as Joe Pietersen – who starred in the reverse fixture in Durban – withdrew and was replaced at flyhalf by Willie du Plessis.
It was Du Plessis who handed the Cheetahs an early lead from the kicking tee, but the Sharks responded with a try from Frans Steyn in the eighth minute after some good work by their forwards.
The Sharks showed a much greater intensity in their play and dominated the contact area. They forced the Cheetahs to play behind the gainline and, while they dropped off during the second half, the damage was done during a four-minute blitz in the first.
It was during this period that Marcell Coetzee went in for two tries from the back of a rolling maul, as the hosts' resistance disintegrated. Pat Lambie was on hand to convert the second as the Sharks led 22-3 at the break.
Coetzee may have had a hat-trick midway through the second half, but was penalised for changing lanes before crossing the line. The Cheetahs made a number of changes during the second half, but it was the introduction of Heinrich Brüssow that had the greatest impact. He showed that he's lost none of his menace at the breakdown – winning three turnovers during his brief cameo.
The Sharks looked set to miss out on a valuable bonus point as time wore down, but following a great break from Odwa Ndungane, the ball was shifted left for Jack Wilson to grab his first try for the franchise since signing from Saracens.
Finally, the Cheetahs breached the Sharks line as Francois Venter crossed the whitewash in the 78th minute, with Francois Brummer converting, but it was too little too late for Naka Drotské's men.
Cheetahs – Try: Francois Venter. Conversion: Francois Brummer. Penalty: Willie du Plessis.
Sharks – Tries: Frans Steyn, Marcell Coetzee (2), Jack Wilson. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalty: Lambie.
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Oupa Mohoje, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Mienie.
Subs: 16 BG Uys, 17 Stephan Coetzee, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Heinrich Brüssow, 20 Steven Sykes, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Andre Esterhuizen, 23 Jack Wilson.
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix