Sharks hold on against brave Kings
The Cell C Sharks had to survive a missed long-range penalty attempt from opposition flyhalf Lionel Cronje before prevailing 19-17 in an unexpectedly closely fought Vodacom Super Rugby coastal derby against the Southern Kings at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday night.
Most pundits would have predicted a comfortable Sharks win over their rivals from Port Elizabeth with a bonus point thrown in, particularly after last week’s excellent Sharks win over the Waratahs.
But from an early stage it was clear that wasn’t going to be the case, with the blunt assessment being that the Sharks allowed themselves to be dragged down to the Kings’ level.
That is not to take anything away from the Kings. The Eastern Cape team showed a lot of guts and bravery, with the end of match statistics reflecting that they made nearly three times as many tackles as the Sharks did.
Although that will suggest that the Sharks had the bulk of the possession to play with, the home team were stymied by the mess that the lineouts were for much of the match.
There was little clean possession won by either side at the lineouts, and that may have prevented the Sharks from gaining the required momentum, as frequently they had to drop back behind the advantage line to secure the ball.
The scrums were also inconsistent, with the Sharks scoring crucial three pointers at the start of both the first and second half through scrum penalties but then also relinquishing control of that phase for much of the latter part of the first half.
In short, the Sharks had possession, but it wasn’t always great useable possession against a Kings team that showed impressive line speed on defence and was constantly in the faces of the Sharks players and slowed play down.
The Sharks had a new player at flyhalf in Bernard Janse van Rensburg and Curwin Bosch was also being tested as he started at fullback for the first time since being dropped after the opening game against the Reds in Brisbane.
Let it be said that neither did well in general play, with the Kings profiting from their decision to play on Bosch with kicks, while it was Janse van Rensburg who had a kick charged down for the Kings to score their first try.
That was a morale boosting effort finished off by No 8 Ruaan Lerm that propelled them into a 7-3 lead with the addition of Cronje’s conversion.
Apart from that mistake, Janse van Rensburg didn’t take good control of the game, and it wasn’t surprising when Garth April was introduced quite early in the second half.
April made a positive impact, as too did scrumhalf Michael Claassens, who helped speed up the Sharks play when it was needed in the last quarter. Cobus Reinach lacked Claassens’s smoothness and accuracy at the base.
KINGS MADE TO PAY FOR YELLOW CARDS
Bosch though, while not producing his finest all-round performance, did still have a crucial role to play in the game. It was his penalty from inside his own half that effectively won the game for the Sharks as they regained the lead with that kick, which came with eight minutes to go, for the first time since the 32nd minute.
When they did take the lead back from the Kings it proved a highly popular try scorer for the Sharks. The ball was dotted down from a driving maul by prop Lourens Adriaanse on the occasion of his 50th cap.
Not only that, it was Adriaanse’s first Super Rugby try, and that included another 30 games he played for other franchises.
It was a night though where the Sharks, perhaps because they were surprised by the aggression in the Kings’ defensive effort (the Sharks did win easily in the corresponding game last year), looked determined to shoot themselves in the foot.
A grand example of that was when a wayward pass from the Sharks found its way into the hands of Kings wing Makazole Mapimpi who used his pace to run in an easy try.
What was confounding about that Kings score was that it came at a stage when they were down to 14 men after prop Ross Geldenhuys had been yellow carded.
The Kings led 14-8 at the break, and that would have heartened the Kings, who have yet to beat a fellow South African team in Super Rugby.
It was a night where the Kings were made to pay for yellow cards though. The Sharks scored their second try by capitalising on a series of penalty advantages as they forced their way upfield before April sent out an excellent pinpoint skip pass to put Kobus van Wyk in for the try in the left corner.
Bosch was unable to convert and the Sharks still trailed by one point, but flanker Chris Cloete, who was central to the destruction that the Kings caused to the Sharks’ attacking intent, was yellow carded for not using his arms in a tackle in the build-up to the score.
It was tough luck for the Kings as Sharks prop Thomas du Toit had escaped yellow card sanction for a similar if not worse indiscretion a few minutes earlier, and they found themselves down to 14 men with just over as many minutes remaining and themselves leading by just one point.
The Bosch long-range penalty was ultimately what made the difference, and it was far too close for comfort for the Sharks coaching staff, who would have been gnawing their nails when Cronje lined up his final kick.
It was a night where coach Robert du Preez did test his depth, but that won’t console him as he looks forward to the tough matches that come up next – the Cheetahs away and the Lions away. Du Preez has some decisions to make at halfback before then.
What he should be pleased about though was the return to the playing field of the second of his two twins, Daniel, who joined brother Jean-Luc in helping turn the tide in the Durban team’s favour in the final minutes.
However, the 13 handling errors plus four breakdown turnovers conceded by the time the game reached the hour mark should be a concern, as should his team’s failure to secure a try scoring bonus. Indeed, the Sharks were lucky to win.
Cell C Sharks 19 – Tries: Lourens Adriaanse and Kobus van Wyk; Penalties: Curwin Bosch 2.
Southern Kings 17 – Tries: Ruaan Lerm and Makazole Mapimpi; Conversions: Lionel Cronje 2; Penalty: Lionel Cronje.