The Sharks scored 23 unanswered points in the second half to clinch a 33-10 bonus-point win over the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday night. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
This was a typically scrappy opener encounter, but the Sharks will happily take the result and run, particularly considering that they came unstuck against the Pumas at the same venue last year.
The Sharks’ physicality on defence and set-piece efficiency paved the way to victory, but there were also some encouraging signs on attack from the Durban-based side, with newly promoted head coach Rob du Preez having spoken of their desire to embrace an eye-catching brand of rugby this season.
The Pumas opened the scoring with an early penalty to Francois Brummer, but it would be the Sharks who established the ascendancy in the first quarter as a result of their powerful set piece.
A strong driving lineout first enabled Franco Marais to dot down for a simple try in the 13th minute, while a dominant scrum soon after provided the platform for Philip van der Walt to break away and pop a perfectly timed pass to Odwa Ndungane, who darted over to score.
At 14-3, it appeared as if the Sharks might begin to run away with it, but the Pumas have become renowned for their ability to scrap gallantly against their more fancied opponents, and that fighting spirit was once again evident on Friday.
The Pumas had battled throughout the first half to create try-scoring opportunities, but a strong lineout drive in the red zone enabled hooker Frankie Herne to score the hosts’ opening try just before the half-hour mark.
Considering the Sharks had made most of the running in the first half and enjoyed the better of territory, there’s no doubt the Pumas would have been happy to find themselves just four points behind at the break, especially considering their struggles at scrum time.
However, the Sharks finally opened up some breathing room when a beautiful multi-phase attack, which included superb offloading and interplay, ultimately enabled S’bura Sithole to go over in the corner soon after the restart.
The result was then sealed when replacement Ruan Botha was able to barge over in the 66th minute after another strong lineout movement, while a final try scored by André Esterhuizen also originated from a powerful scrum.
Pumas – Try: Frankie Herne. Conversion: Francois Brummer. Penalty: Brummer.
Sharks – Tries: Franco Marais, Odwa Ndungane, S’bura Sithole, Ruan Botha, André Esterhuizen. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (4).
Pumas – 15 Justin van Staden, 14 JP Lewis, 13 Hennie Skorbinski, 12 Marlou van Niekerk, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Lambert Groenewald, 6 Brian Shabangu/Marnus Schoeman, 5 Hugo Kloppers (c), 4 Stephan Greeff, 3 Dee-Jay Terblanche, 2 Frankie Herne, 1 Kwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Swys du Toit, 17 Yskas Kotzé, 18 Wiehan Hay,19 Brian Shabangu/Marnus Schoeman, 20 Emile Temperman, 21 Devon Williams, 22 Deon Helberg.
Sharks – 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Neil Maritz, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Inny Radebe, 22 Heimar Williams.
Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images