The Sharks beat Toulon 29-21 at the Stade Mayol on Friday night having led 24-0 early in the second half. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold will be relatively pleased with his side's performance, which was far more impressive than last year's scrappy 12-10 win against the European champions. Scrumhalf Cobus Reinach was the best of the backs, while 20-year-old twins Daniel and Jean-Luc du Preez made a big ball-carrying impact at No 8 and blindside flank respectively.
The win may have come at a cost, though, with openside flank Francois Kleinhans limping off the field after just three minutes and skipper Pat Lambie sustaining a shoulder injury late in the first half.
Gold will also be concerned about the scrums, with Coenie Oosthuizen struggling at tighthead prop and conceding two first-half penalties.
Toulon, already without their French internationals, were further depleted when flyhalf Frédéric Michalak withdrew due to injury just before kick-off.
The hosts applied the early pressure, but the Sharks kept them out and should have taken the lead when awarded a kickable penalty. But Lambie's attempt went wide, and while his side attacked again minutes later, with Coenie Oosthuizen making a strong run, they lost possession in Toulon's 22.
The Sharks finally opened the scoring at the end of the third quarter when the ball went wide to André Esterhuizen, whose one-handed offload in the tackle found Jean-Luc du Preez. The flanker was brought down just short of the line but he popped the ball up to Reinach, who dived over for the first try.
Lambie's kick was once again off target, but he made amends in the 31st minute when his perfectly-timed pass found Paul Jordaan, who shrugged off two poor tackle attempts to score a converted try.
Things soon went from bad to worse for Toulon, when centre Théo Belan was yellow-carded, and the Sharks made their one-man advantage count with Daniel du Preez crashing over to make it 17-0.
It took the Sharks just six minutes to add to their tally in the second half, when a break from Joe Pietersen (on for Lambie) resulted in a converted try for Jean-Luc du Preez.
Toulon then hit back with two converted tries from lineout driving mauls, by flanker Gregory Annetta and hooker Jean-Charles Orioli, the second of which came immediately after Sharks lock Etienne Oosthuizen had been yellow-carded for cynical play at a ruck.
The Sharks briefly regained the ascendancy when winger Lwazi Mvovo bounced off Anthony Meric to make it 29-14, but then conceded a penalty try after collapsing another impressive Toulon maul.
While the hosts pushed hard for another try in the final few minutes, the Sharks survived the onslaught to claim an eight-point win.
Toulon – Tries: Gregory Annetta, Jean-Charles Orioli, penalty try. Conversions: Jonathan Pélissié (2), UJ Seuteni.
Sharks – Tries: Cobus Reinach, Paul Jordaan, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Pat Lambie, Joe Pietersen.
Toulon – 15 Delon Armitage , 14 James O'Connor, 13 Théo Belan, 12 Louis Rousset, 11 Bryan Habana (c), 10 UJ Seuteni, 9 Jonathan Pélissié, 8 Charles Ollivon, 7 Gregory Annetta, 6 Samu Manoa, 5 Konstantin Mikautadze, 4 Thibault Lassalle, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Alexandre Menini.
Subs: 16 Badri Alkhazashvili, 17 Thomas Vernet, 18 Andrew Cramond, 19 George Stokes, 20 Kylian Jaminet, 21 TBC, 22 Anthony Meric, 23 Manasa Saulo.
Sharks – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Odwa Ndungane, 10 Pat Lambie (c), 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Giant Mtyanda, 20 Dave McDuling, 21 Hyron Andrews, 22 Stefan Ungerer, 23 Michael Claassens, 24 Garth April, 25 Heimar Williams, 26 Johan Deysel, 27 Wandile Mjekevu, 28 S'bura Sithole.