A last-gasp try by replacement flanker Carel Greeff clinched the GWK Griquas a dramatic 32-30 win that ensured that the new era for the Sharks did not get off to a positive start as they began their Absa Currie Cup campaign at Growthpoint Kings Park.
The Sharks, well led by late replacement Jacques Botes after the 11th hour withdrawal of regular captain Keegan Daniel, did well to recover from a nightmare start and their dominant display in the second quarter of the game looked like it might have set them on the road to the victory they needed to ease the pressure on their new coaching staff.
In that time they recovered from an early 13-0 deficit (that was the score after just 14 minutes) to take a 20-16 halftime lead as the momentum they were getting through their thrusts up the middle started to pay off.
However, the Sharks battled in the first phase throughout, particularly in the scrums, and when the rain came in the second half it became all about territory and possession and here the Griquas were their equal.
The Sharks looked like they would bank the four log points for the win when they went into the last minute of the game 30-25 up.
It required Griquas to score a converted try to win, and they had done that only once in the match, with the bulk of their points coming from the boot of wing Nico Scheepers.
What the Sharks didn’t need was to concede a penalty at the final scrum of the match, but that is what happened, and it allowed the Griquas a chance to set up a launch point deep in Sharks territory.
Their pick and go driving had been good in the entire match, and so it proved at the last as Greeff, who replaced the impressive Manus Schoeman at halftime, completed an impressive debut by wriggling over for a try that was confirmed by the TMO.
Scheepers then kicked the conversion to complete a perfect personal performance with the boot and seal an important away win for a Griquas team that looks quite capable of producing a few more shocks during the course of the season.
Certainly in the early minutes of the match it looked like the visitors might win at a canter. Griquas were all over the Sharks at the breakdown, effectively getting in between their forwards, and the hosts looked nervous.
That nervousness would have been accentuated when Schoeman crashed over for the first try as Griquas made scoring look too easy in driving over off a lineout to make it 7-0.
Then came two Scheepers penalties, and the lead may have been bigger had they had the option of setting up the lineout rather than kick the second of those penalties. Unfortunately at the time Ligtoring Landman was off the field being attended to in the hope of coming back on, and Griquas never had sufficient numbers at forward to justify the option.
As it turned out, the lock never came back on as what was thought to be a dislocated thumb proved to be broken, and his departure from the field coincided with a massive momentum shift.
The Sharks’ comeback started with an impressive driving maul that went what looked like at least 20 to 25 metres, with Kyle Cooper being at the heart of it, and for much of the rest of the half Griquas hardly got their hands on the ball.
In that time Botes scored a brace of tries for the Sharks, the first coming courtesy of some quick thinking from scrumhalf Charl McLeod just short of the half hour mark as he took a quick tap when Griquas were mulling over the fairness of referee Jason Jafta’s penalty against them at a set-scrum.
And the second came off the back of a rare solid Sharks scrum near the Griquas posts a minute before the break.
At that stage it looked as though the Sharks were taking control, but the conditions forced both teams to go into their shells from a game-plan viewpoint in the second half.
The Sharks did score an excellent try that was completed by Lwazi Mvovo after he took an inside pass from fullback Odwa Ndungane as the Sharks attacked off a poor attempted clearance from former teammate Gouws Prinsloo.
But Griquas also had an impressive try that was completed by Hilton Lobberts denied by a 50/50 call for obstruction from the TMO, and both teams had their chances to score as the lead changed hands a few times in a ding-dong second half.
Lobberts, recently recruited from Western Province, was at the heart of much of what was good from Griquas pack, while tighthead Lourens Adriaanse delivered a scrumming master-class that played a big role in determining the end result.
It was the first time the new scrumming engagement calls were used in a top level game in South Africa, and it was a good start, with hardly any of the collapsed scrums that have blighted the past few seasons in evidence.
At the back Griquas had some intelligent play from Howard Mnisi to thank for many of their better attacking moments, but neither side made much impact with their attacking game in the first half when the conditions allowed it and in the second half the wet weather forced the hands of the two teams.
It was a good opening for Griquas and they should have shown the Sharks what they need to do – they need to find a tight five that can front for them while the Springboks are away or the league phase of the domestic season could be a struggle.
Griquas 32 – Tries: Manus Schoeman and Carel Greeff; Conversions: Nico Scheepers (2); Penalties: Nico Scheepers (6).
Sharks 30 – Tries: Jacques Botes (2) and Lwazi Mvovo, Conversions: Butch James (3); Penalties: Butch James (3).