The Sharks went back to the top of the combined Super Rugby log with a hard-fought 25-12 victory against the Lions at Ellis Park. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
With 14 minutes to go, the Sharks led just 15-12 and it was anyone's game. But then Alwyn Hollenbach had the ball ripped off him in the tackle by the excellent S'bura Sithole near the Lions' 10m line. Lwazi Mvovo broke away, chipped ahead and then regathered the ball to score the game-breaking try.
Until then, the Lions had defended heroically. They ended up making 86 tackles compared to the Sharks' 70, while the visitors dominated possession and made 519m compared to the hosts' 224.
The only number that really matters, though, is four, which is the number of log points the Sharks took from this physical local derby.
Jake White's side made a strong start to the match when Odwa Ndungane, earning his 100th Super Rugby cap for the franchise, broke away from the kick-off, taking play from his 22 to inside the Lions' half. The visitors then stole the Lions' first lineout ball inside their 22 and while Fred Zeilinga's poor pass went into touch, the flyhalf kicked a penalty goal soon after to get some reward for their early dominance.
Zeilinga slotted his second penalty but missed his third, while Marnitz Boshoff's first drop-goal attempt went well wide.
The Sharks then suffered a double setback in the 19th minute. Zeilinga left the field with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Heimar Williams, with Frans Steyn moving to flyhalf. And Jannie du Plessis was yellow-carded for a cynical shoulder check on Lionel Mapoe. Boshoff kicked the resultant penalty goal and slotted another on the half-hour mark to level the scores.
With four minutes to go before the break, the Sharks attacked down the left touchline, with JP Pietersen passing inside to S'bura Sithole. But Willie Britz made an excellent tackle and the Lions won a penalty at the breadown, 10m out from their tryline.
The Sharks were denied again seconds before the half-time hooter when Beast Mtawarira had the ball ripped from his grasp. While Willem Alberts dived on it in the in-goal area, TV replays showed that he had held Stefan Watermeyer back and the try was disallowed.
But it wasn't long before the Sharks did regain the lead, Steyn kicking two monster penalties to make it 12-6 after 50 minutes. The confident stand-in flyhalf then pushed a 63m penalty short and wide and missed a long-range drop goal.
The Lions, though, refused to buckle and were held up over the Sharks tryline after an eight-phase attack. The referee went back for the penalty and Boshoff made no mistake.
Steyn kicked his third penalty – this time a simple one – but Boshoff responded immediately to again make it a three-point game.
But then came Mvovo's moment of magic that gave the Sharks a 10-point lead, and Steyn's fourth penalty sealed the win.
Lions – Penalties: Marnitz Boshoff (4).
Sharks – Try: Lwazi Movo. Conversion: Frans Steyn. Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (2), Steyn (4).
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
S'bura Sithole won the official award, but we've gone for Bismarck du Plessis, who was dominant at the breakdown and on defence. More on his performance here.
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Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images