Winger Wandile Mjekevu scored a brace of tries as the Sharks overturned a nine-point deficit to beat the Pumas 27-26 in Durban on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Sharks failed to show appreciation for possession in the first half, while their lineout went awry in the second stanza, but they displayed impressive character to score 10 unanswered points late in the game.
In the opening round of the competition, the Pumas clinched a surprise win over the Sharks and at various times during Saturday's encounter it looked as if they might secure a third successive win over the Durban-based side.
A late drop-goal attempt from Pumas replacement Justin van Staden was charged down after the final hooter, ultimately allowing the home side to hold on for an important but unconvincing victory.
Returning Springbok Cobus Reinach created the first try for the Sharks in the 15th minute, with a sniping half-break and neat offload to put winger Mjekevu away in the corner.
However, the Pumas quickly hit back as they capitalised on a Sharks mistake and worked their way into the red zone, with lock Marius Coetzer dotting down to help level the scores.
Pumas flyhalf JC Roos knocked over a couple of penalties before half-time, while Sharks fullback Joe Pietersen added a solitary three-pointer as the visitors established a narrow 13-10 lead at the break.
Reinach, who had received a yellow card in the first half, was then on the receiving end of a stray boot from Jacques Momberg at the bottom of a ruck, which saw the Pumas hooker sent to the sin bin early in the second half.
The hosts virtually immediately capitalised on their one-man advantage as Paul Jordaan spun out of an attempted tackle to finish off a well-worked try that was created from a massive Sharks scrum, with Thomas du Toit having been deployed at loosehead prop for the second half.
The Pumas restored their lead before the hour mark, though, with JW Bell going over for his team’s second try, while Van Staden knocked over the conversion and a penalty to give his side a handy 23-17 lead.
With momentum having well and truly shifted, Van Staden knocked over his second penalty in the 66th minute as the Pumas opened up a nine-point buffer.
Yet the Sharks responded timeously as Mjekevu went over for his second try just a couple of minutes later, while Pietersen slotted a crucial conversion from an acute angle.
From almost the exact same position, Pietersen slotted his second penalty as the Sharks edged into a match-winning 27-26 lead.
Sharks – Tries: Wandile Mjekevu (2), Paul Jordaan. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3). Penalties: Pietersen (2).
Pumas – Tries: Marius Coetzer, JW Bell. Conversions: JC Roos, Justin van Staden. Penalties: Roos (2), Justin van Staden (2).
Sharks – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Dan du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2 Monde Hadebe, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 JC Astle, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Stefan Ungerer, 21 Heimar Williams, 22 Garth April.
Pumas – 15 JW Bell, 14 Bernardo Botha, 13 Hoffman Maritz, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosko Speckman, 10 JC Roos, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jason Colin-Fraser, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Jaco Bouwer, 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Rudi Mathee, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jacques Momberg, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Francois du Toit, 17 De-Jay Terblanché, 18 Khwezi Mona, 19 Giant Mtyanda, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Justin van Staden, 22 Jerome Pretorius.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images