DURBAN – Well, few saw this one coming… The Sharks indeed got over the line against the Lions in the opening match of Super Rugby – Unlocked but how they managed it in the end against the brave visitors is a mystery.
The pre-match script had the home team to pick up where they left off pre-lockdown but the Lions did not get the memo and after a subdued opening 30 minutes the rest of the game pretty much belonged to them, and in a thrilling finish to the match, they so nearly snatched the spoils.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt had called for a sharp escalation in energy and intensity from his troops and they responded admirably, hitting the ground running from the first whistle and threatening to blow the Lions off the park.
The visitors barely touched the ball in the first quarter and they would have been thrilled to be just-7-0 down at that juncture, having benefited from some careless finishing from the Sharks.
That first try had been scored by Blitzbok Werner Kok, on debut for the Sharks, thanks to a perfectly -timed pass from Lukhanyo Am that was reminiscent of his famous offload to Makazole Mapimpi in the World Cup final.
The Lions’ first attacking opportunity almost saw them score, with wing Rabz Maxwane tackled into touch at the corner flag by both Marius Louw and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
The latter had a splendid first half, picking up the same form he was in when Super Rugby went into lockdown in March.
Curwin Bosch stroked home two long-range penalties to one by Elton Jantjies to give the Sharks a 10-point cushion at half time but it could well have been much closer but for some stout defence from the home side, who ended the half valiantly defending their line.
But the Lions did score first in the second half, a spectacular collaboration between Jantjies and Jumbo Ulengo, with the flyhalf first looking to kick a penalty to the corner flag for a lineout only to suddenly switch direction and kick to the unmarked wing at the other corner.
His conversion made it meant the Lions had come back from 13-0 down — and lucky for it to only that — to 13-10.
Bosch and Jantjies exchanged penalties for a 16-13 score-line as the game hit the three-quarter mark to set up an intriguing final quarter.
And with 10 minutes to go Jantjies levelled it up at 16-16, and it was the Lions that had the momentum only for them to concede a penalty for not rolling away, and Bosch nailed another long distance shot at goal.
But the Lions kept pressing and the Sharks had a massive let off when a straight-forward Jantjies penalty effort hit the upright.
There was a cracking finish when the Lions had a penalty as the hooter went, and chose a scrum on the Sharks’ line rather that kicking for the draw, and after a succession of restarts the Sharks somehow won a penalty.
Scorers in this match
Try: Werner Kok.
Conversion: Curwin Bosch. Penalties: Bosch (4)
Lions Try: Jumbo Ulengo.
Penalties: Elton Jantjies (3). Conversion: Jantjies.