A clinical first-half performance by the Sharks set up a comfortable 35-20 win over the Reds in Durban, reports JON CARDINELLI.
The Sharks played a smart, territorial game in the first half, pressuring the Reds into errors and penalties. They were good enough to play the game in the Reds' half, and good enough to translate that pressure and territory into a 25-6 half-time lead.
Frans Steyn and Pat Lambie were in flawless goal-kicking form, and thus crucial to the Sharks' game plan. Lambie found his kicking rhythm early in the game while Steyn continued to provide the Sharks with a formidable long-range kicking option. He was a force last week in the win over the Lions, and nailed another 55m penalty in this clash against the Reds.
But while Lambie and Steyn should be praised for their accuracy, they shouldn't receive all the plaudits. The Sharks shone as a collective, and their pack showed a marked improvement at the tackle.
Bismarck du Plessis and Marcell Coetzee were immense at the breakdown, and Coetzee, named Man of the Match, gained a lot of ground with ball in hand. There was power in this performance by the Sharks forwards, but there was also accuracy and composure.
The Reds attempted to slow the Sharks down, but to no avail. They could do little but watch as Lambie and Steyn piled on the points during those opening 40 minutes.
They took some early opportunities through the cool kicking of Quade Cooper, but missed out on seven points when Mike Harris dropped the ball in front of an unguarded tryline. The mistake was made on the stroke of half-time, and ensured that the visitors went to the shed without any momentum.
The Reds were forced to play catch-up rugby, and resorted to a few risks. They turned down a number of kickable penalties and sought to score a try via the lineout maul, but were again undone by some determined Sharks defence.
This was no mean feat, given the number of Wallabies in the Reds lineout, and the absence of Pieter-Steph du Toit at the Sharks' set piece. Nevertheless, No 8 Ryan Kankowski proved very effective when it came to thwarting the Reds' maul.
The pressure exerted by the Sharks at source would be felt in the Reds backline. The dangerous duo of Will Genia and Cooper did had an impact on the contest, but not as much as the Reds would have liked.
Cooper put Harris away for a try in the 55th minute, and his subsequent conversion narrowed the deficit to 12 points. But this piece of brilliance was the exception rather than the rule on a night that belonged to the hosts.
The Sharks made their opportunities and visits into opposition territory count. The Reds were exactly the opposite, as even though they enjoyed more possession and territory in the second half, they earned very little reward.
Lambie goaled his fifth penalty in the 60th minute to restore the Sharks' formidable lead. The Reds hit back through a converted try, but then reserve flanker Beau Robinson was shown a yellow card. This killed off any chance of a Reds' comeback.
The Sharks' performance in the second half was less clinical than it was in the first. But at no stage did they lose control of this fixture, and ultimately the victory was a comfortable and deserved one.
Prop Dale Chadwick crashed over from close range in the 78th minute to seal the win, and Lambie slotted the conversion to maintain his perfect record.
The result ensures that the Sharks remain undefeated and keep their place at the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby log.
Sharks – Tries: Willem Alberts, Dale Chadwick. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalties: Frans Steyn (2), Lambie (5).
Reds – Tries: Mike Harris, Will Genia. Conversions: Quade Cooper (2). Penalties: Cooper (2).
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 TBC, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Jaco van Tonder.
Reds – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Jono Owen, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Dom Shipperley.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images