JP Pietersen scored a brace as the Sharks claimed a 32-15 win against the Hurricanes in Durban on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result as well as the manner of victory should come as a surprise. Last week, the Hurricanes scored seven tries in their 50-17 thrashing of the Lions in Johannesburg. Most would have expected the rampant Hurricanes to steamroll the Sharks, a side that had just returned from a taxing three-match tour of New Zealand.
The Hurricanes were expected to prevail against a Sharks side with the second worst try-scoring record in the tournament. There was the added incentive of winning the game for their forwards coach, John Plumtree, who was returning to Kings Park for the first time since he left the Sharks in 2013.
After 80 minutes, Plumtree would have been disappointed with his charges. The Hurricanes scored just two tries and conceded three. The visitors were especially susceptible at the breakdown, and the Sharks managed to force a number of telling turnovers.
The first half was a scrap, with the Sharks doing well to concede only eight points. The Hurricanes had their chances during that period, and enjoyed as much as 68% of possession according to SARugbymag's Opta-powered stats.
The Sharks kept the Hurricanes in check for 40 minutes, and then hit back with a try of their own right on half-time. The score was sparked from a breakdown turnover, and some brilliant interplay by forwards and backs saw the hosts moving deep into Hurricanes territory.
The Sharks controlled possession well, and a skip pass by Willie le Roux found Pietersen on the right wing. The try was unconverted by Garth April, and so the scores were 8-8 at the break.
Another breakdown turnover resulted in Pietersen snatching his second try in the 44th minute. April's successful conversion allowed the Sharks to move into a 15-8 lead.
The hosts began to grow in confidence after that try. By contrast, the Hurricanes became increasingly frantic in their approach.
This played into the Sharks' hands. The hosts' defence continued to pressure the Hurricanes at the gainline. The Sharks won a scrum 5m out from the Hurricanes tryline, and scored through No 8 Daniel du Preez.
In the 52nd minute, Pat Lambie came off the bench to make his long-awaited return from injury. The Springbok flyhalf kicked a penalty that put the game beyond reach at 25-8. He also made some good contributions with ball in hand in his second-half cameo.
At that stage, the Sharks had an opportunity to claim the try-scoring bonus point. However, the Hurricanes scored through James Marshall in the 73rd minute to reduce the try-deficit to two.
The Sharks went hunting for a further try in the dying minutes. They had their chances, but failed to hang on to the ball.
That said, they will surely take a win that sees them moving within one log point of the Lions in the Africa 2 conference. They are still in the playoff race.
Sharks – Tries: JP Pietersen (2), Michael Claassens, Daniel du Preez. Conversions: Garth April (2), Pat Lambie. Penalties: April, Lambie.
Hurricanes – Tries: Reggie Goodes, James Marshall. Conversion: Jason Woodward. Penalty: Beauden Barrett.
Sharks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c).
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ngani Laumape, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reg Goodes.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Willie Halaholo, 23 Jason Woodward.
Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix