The Sharks regained their wildcard qualifying position with an important 26-10 win over the Cheetahs at Kings Park on Saturday night. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
After the Bulls had secured an emphatic 50-3 bonus-point win over the Sunwolves earlier in the day, the pressure shifted on to the Sharks to secure a winning result that would enable them to reclaim the quarter-final qualifying berth.
In the end, although it was far from an entirely convincing performance from the Sharks, they managed to produce a much improved second-half effort to clinch a victory that takes them two points ahead of the chasing Bulls. In that regard, it was simply a case of mission accomplished.
The Sharks would be expected to secure a positive result when they host the Sunwolves in Durban next weekend, and that would be enough to see them progress to a hard-fought quarter-final position.
As expected, the Cheetahs put up a brave fight at Kings Park, but ultimately the Sharks displayed the greater desire and determination in a second half that they won 16-3 to come away with an all-important win.
Although the Sharks enjoyed most of the possession in an opening quarter where ascendancy was on their side, it would be the Cheetahs who struck first when winger Raymond Rhule was put away to score in the 16th minute.
That try came mere seconds after Sharks captain Beast Mtawarira had been yellow-carded for an unnecessary open-handed slap to his opposite number, Maks van Dyk. During the time that Mtawarira was off, the Cheetahs heaped on the pressure at scrum time, but the Sharks did well to survive an onslaught from the visitors just before Beast returned to action to steady that set piece.
Garth April also managed to pull three points back for Sharks in the 20th minute, but the hosts would have acknowledged that they had been their own worst enemies during an opening half an hour that saw them concede seven penalties.
Somewhat ironically, though, it was from a free kick earned at scrum time that the Sharks managed to create an opportunity for JP Pietersen to cut inside and score a try that suddenly sent the Durban-based side into a 10-7 lead at the break.
Considering their scrum struggles and the fact they’d played 10 minutes with 14 men, the Sharks would have happily taken what was undoubtedly a rather fortuitous half-time lead.
Yet with the introduction of some replacements, and particularly Lourens Adriaanse at tighthead, the Sharks turned the tables at scrum time, and it was a penalty won at this set piece that enabled April to cancel out an earlier three-pointer from Zeilinga.
April edged the Sharks into a six-point lead with a third penalty just before the hour mark, while the contest was finally broken open when a stray pass from Zeilinga was snatched up by replacement Stefan Ungerer, who went over unopposed to score under the posts.
Out of nowhere, the hosts suddenly led 23-10, while Keegan Daniel had a golden opportunity to seal the result soon after, but he spilt the ball with the tryline at his mercy.
Yet it mattered not as April slotted a fourth penalty soon after, and from there the Sharks closed out a result that puts them in line to feature in the knockout stage of the competition.
Sharks – Tries: JP Pietersen, Stefan Ungerer. Conversions: Garth April (2). Penalties: April (4).
Cheetahs – Try: Raymond Rhule. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty: Zeilinga.
Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sibusiso Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Beast Mtawarira (c).
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 George Whitehead, 23 William Small-Smith.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images