The Sharks put their campaign back on track with a hard-earned 32-27 win over Western Province in Durban on Saturday.
In a replay of last year’s Final, the defending-champion Sharks outscored WP by four tries to three – the difference in the end.
It was not a classic game, but neither team can be faulted for their effort.
Execution, however, was the real issue for both teams.
It was a dissatisfactory start by Western Province, with two knock-ons – the second resulting in a penalty after the ball was played from an offs-side position – affording Curwin Bosch to slot a penalty in the third minute to open the home team’s account.
However, Lubabalo Mtembu promptly handed a penalty back to the visitors, with Sarel Marais levelling the scores after five minutes.
WP was then reduced to 14 men – scrumhalf Justin Phillips sent to the sin bin for a cynical foul, after he killed the ball in the tackle near his own tryline.
From the resulting penalty, the Sharks opted for a scrum And exploited the extra man, Lwazi Mvovo strolling over in the left corner. Bosch failed to add the extras – 8-3.
Province again hit back quickly, Jaco Coetzee getting the armchair ride from a fast-moving maul over the line. The TMO had a few looks at the build-up, ruling that there was obstruction. WP had an advantage for the Sharks illegally taking out support players at the line-out and the visitors opted for another line-out five metres out. This time there was no doubt, as Coetzee wormed his way over from closer range. Marais put WP in the lead with the conversion – 10-8 after 27 minutes.
With just on five minutes remaining in the first half, Province was penalised for offside play by their backs. Bosch, however, was way off target again.
The home tea, soon reclaimed the lead when Kobus van Wyk strolled over in the right-hand corner, after a sublime long pass out wide by Curwin Bosch. Bosch added the extras for a 15-10 lead – which they took into the half-time break.
Less than two minutes into the second half Jon_payl Pietersen intercepted a loopy pass by Jean-Luc du Plessis and raced clear for his team’s third try. Bosch made it a 22-10 lead with the conversion.
Just on the 55-minute mark, WP was penalised for illegal clearing out at the tackle and Bosch stretched the lead to 25-10.
The visitors compounded their dire situation with a litany of errors, constantly handing possession back to the Sharks.
Right on the hour mark Ruhan Nel corkscrewed his way over the line, after a period of sustained pressure. Marais’ conversion narrowed the gap to 17-25.
Province’s error count continued to mount, as they looked to find a way back into the game. Their discipline also let them down on occasions.
In the 70th minute, Marais narrowed the gap to just five points (20-25) with a penalty.
However, almost straight from the restart, the Sharks countered from deep, with Craig Burden finishing off a great move, after a sublime inside pass from Kobus van Wyk (32-20).
Province continued to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the Sharks, with Josh Stander sniping over in the 77th minute. Marais conversion made it a five-point game again – 27-32.
That is how it stayed to the end.
Man of the match: Salmaan Moerat produced his usual high workrate. John Schickerling justified his selection on the flank, his high workrate and great skillset making him a massive asset for the visitors. Flyhalf Curwin Bosch had an erratic game at flyhalf, but he was at least better than Province No.10 Jean-Luc du Plessis – who was yanked from the field around the 50-minute mark, following a horror show that included a gift of a try with an intercept pass. Sharks prop Coenie Oosthuizen produced the kind of performance that may earn him a Springbok recall. Ruben van Heerden also lived up to his high profile as a talent for the future, while Luke Stringer was the calming influence in a hard-working pack. Co-captain Jeremy Ward was everything that was good about the Sharks – solid on defence, carrying strongly and generally playing with energy, looking top get involved in the action. He wins our award.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Mvovo, Van Wyk, Pietersen, Burden
Cons: Bosch 3
For Western Province
Tries: Coetzee, Nel, Stander
Cons: Marais 3
Pens: Marais 2
Yellow card: Justin Phillips (Western Province, 16 – cynical foul, killing the ball at the breakdown)
Sharks: 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jon-Paul Pietersen, 12 Jeremy Ward (co-captain), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu (co-captain), 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Luke Stringer, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Aphelele Fassi.
Western Province: 15 Sarel Marais, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Justin Phillips, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 John Schickerling, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl (captain), 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Kwenzo Blose, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Josh Stander, 23 Craig Barry.
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant referees: Paul Mente, Vusi Msibi
TMO: Marius Jonker