The Sharks scored nine unanswered tries to claim a 53-0 bonus-point win over the EP Kings in Durban on Saturday.
The result sees coach Robert du Preez’s side eclipse the Blue Bulls in second position on the competition log due to a greater points difference.
This was always going to be a difficult challenge for the beleaguered EP Kings, who are still searching for their maiden victory in this year’s tournament.
For the Sharks this was a welcome return to winning ways after twin defeats to Western Province and the undefeated Free State Cheetahs threatened to derail their campaign.
Despite heavy rain throughout the match and a soaked surface, the Sharks had little difficulty in putting away the pitiful Kings. Such was their domination that they had the four-try bonus point already wrapped up on the 30-minute mark.
In the leadup to the opening score, flank Jean-Luc du Preez held up the Kings defence with a strong carry and then popped a pass to centre André Esterhuizen for an easy run-in. The next two tries – by stand-in captain Chiliboy Ralepelle and Du Preez – were well executed off set-piece play.
Curwin Bosch had an off day with the boot slotting only two conversions, but the fullback featured prominently in the Sharks’ attacking structures. From a poor Kings clearance, Bosch launched a counter-attack, but realising he won’t get past the cover defender, he set up Inny Radebe to finish in the corner.
For all their struggles, the Kings weren’t deprived of decent scoring opportunities. But perhaps a precis of their fortunes came when Siviwe Soyizwapi was hauled mere metres from the tryline in the 37th minute. The winger broke out from inside his own 22 and with no Sharks defenders in sight he looked set to get the Kings on the board. But Bosch tracked back to make what the television commentators labeled as a possible ‘cover tackle of the century’, to deny Soyizwapi.
The Sharks’ relentless attack didn’t let up after the break as they drove home their advantage with three tries in 13 minutes to lead 41-0. However, the most significant moment came in-between those try-scoring exploits, when replacement flyhalf Pat Lambie was introduced in the 44th minute after a lengthy concussion rehabilitation.
Lambie was immediately required to shoot at goal and, despite the waterlogged outfield, his attempt was spot on.
The action faded towards the end with the Sharks' handling error tally increasing, but they managed to close out the result with two late tries by Wandile Mjekevu and Khaya Majola, even if only to improve their points differential.
Sharks – Tries: André Esterhuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Jean-Luc du Preez, Inny Radebe, Michael Claassens, Francois Kleinhans, Etienne Oosthuizen, Wandile Mjekevu, Khaya Majola. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2), Pat Lambie (2).
EP Kings (0)
Sharks – 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Rhyno Smith, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Wandile Mjekvu, 10 Inny Radebe, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Francois Kleinhans, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Khaya Majola, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 John-Hubert Meyer, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle (c), 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Jean Droste, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Patrick Lambie, 22 Neil Maritz.
EP Kings – 15 Lungelo Gosa, 14 Siviwe Soyizwapi, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 9 Ricky Schroeder, 8 Christiaan de Bruin, 7 Henry Brown, 6 Vince Jobo, 5 Sebastian Ferreira, 4 Dylan Pieterse, 3 Justin Forwood, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Barend Potgieter.
Subs: 16 Warrick Venter, 17 Mzu Sofisa, 18 Etienne Oosthuizen, 19 Luke van der Smit, 20 Vian van der Watt, 21 Minenhle Mthetha, 22 Alcino Izaacs.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images