The Sharks XV scored two late tries to pip the Free State XV 34-33 in an entertaining Vodacom Cup clash at King’s Park on Saturday.
Fred Zeilinga, the young pivot for the Sharks XV, slotted all his kicks in tough conditions, and added a try in a personal haul of 19 points.
Sburra Sithole and Franco Marais scored in the last ten minutes for the hosts, and even though the visitors scored a last-minute touchdown, it wasn’t enough to deny the Sharks a full haul of five points.
They had opened the try account, after kickers Tewis de Bruyn and Fred Zeilinga had traded early penalties. Left wing Sizo Maseko finished of good work from the backline in the 12th minute, and Zielinga added the conversion.
The Free Staters hit back soon after though, as the powerful Rossouw de Klerk bulldozed his way over in the 19th minute. De Bruyn missed the conversion, but slotted a penalty five minutes later to take the lead (11-10).
Another penalty for the Sharks XV saw them regain the lead, but the visitors then scored a wonderful team try in the 32nd minute. Centre Joubert Engelbrecht was the one who finally got over the whitewash, but several of his teammates, especially the elusive Eddie Fredericks, were involved in a flowing move that left the Sharks badly exposed.
Not willing to go into the break behind, the Sharks hit back three minutes before the break, as Zeilinga sniped through the line, and then converted his own try to take the halftime lead (20-18).
Both sides started the second half with just as much gusto, but the Free Staters enjoyed the better of the exchanges around the rucks, with eighthman Tertius Daniller highly prominent in the loose.
His back-row partner Elandre Huggett sneaked over for the Free State XV’s third try of the day, when he finished off a steady phase of probing by the pack. De Bruyn missed the conversion, but the visitors led 23-20 with a quarter of the match left to play.
The visitors missed two penalties in quick succession to stretch their lead, but they continued to boss possession, with the Sharks forced to concede more and more penalties under pressure. De Bruyn did stretch the lead to six points when he drilled in a penalty in the 72nd minute.
But, the Sharks produced enough space to get flyer Sithole in at the corner in the 73rd minute, though the try had to be confirmed by television replay. Zielinga nervelessly slotted the conversion from the touchline, to nudge the hosts back in front (27-26).
Replacement hooker Franco Marais then ended a concerted period of pressure for the hosts, powering his way over from a ruck, to seal the win.
Freddie Ngoza scored a last-gasp try for Free State XV, which earned them two bonus points – one for scoring four tries, and the other for losing by fewer than seven points.
Sharks XV - Tries: Sizo Maseko, Fred Zeilinga, Sburra Sithole, Franco Marais; Conversions: Zielinga (4); Penalties: Zielinga (2)
Free State XV - Tries: Rossouw de Klerk, Joubert Engelbrecht, Elandre Huggett, Freddie Ngoza: Conversions: Tewis de Bruyn (2); Penalties: De Bruyn (3)