The Sharks ground out a scrappy 12-10 win over Toulon at a cold and wet Stade Mayol on Thursday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
It may not have been the attacking, free-flowing rugby that's been touted by the Sharks camp in the buildup to the Vodacom Super Rugby season, but they showed that if they get the basics right, they'll be difficult to stop in their quest for another South African conference title.
The Sharks were dominant at the breakdown, with captain Bismarck du Plessis showing once again his proficiency in this area of the game during his 40 minutes of rugby. Pat Lambie managed the game well from flyhalf, while new boys Renaldo Bothma and Mouritz Botha contributed well on their first outing.
Their performance at the scrums will be a cause for concern, however, after Matt Stevens struggled to cope with French international Xavier Chiocci during the first half. Things failed to improve for the Sharks following the introduction of a fresh front row after the break.
New coach Gary Gold may also be faced with a couple injury concerns ahead of the visit from the Cheetahs after Pieter-Steph du Toit, Cobus Reinach and Etienne Oosthuizen all left the field carrying knocks.
The European champions, shorn of some of their international stars, struggled to cope with the Sharks' physical defence on the night, despite dominating proceedings territorially. They may still have snatched a victory had Nicolás Sanchez been accurate with his penalty attempt after the hooter.
However, the Sharks showed great resolve after falling behind midway through the second half to grind out a good win against tough opposition.
Toulon – Tries: David Smith (2).
Sharks – Penalties: Pat Lambie (3), Fred Zeilinga.
Toulon – 15 Juan Martín Hernández, 14 Joshua Tuisova, 13 Bryan Habana, 12 Jimmy Yoboo, 11 David Smith, 10 Nicolás Sanchez, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Gerhard Vosloo, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Ali Williams, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Jean-Charles Orioli, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Subs: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Corentin Braendlin, 19 Steffon Armitage, 20 Virgile Bruni, 21 Ulupano Seuteni, 22 Eric Escande, 23 Karim Bougherara, 24 Andy Cramond, 25 Stephane Munoz.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 S’bura Sithole, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Monde Hadebe, 20 Marco Wentzel, 21 Etienne Oosthuizen, 22 André Esterhuizen, 23 Paul Perez, 24 Odwa Ndungane, 25 Conrad Hoffmann, 26 Fred Zeilinga.
Photo: Boris Horvat/AFP Photo