A penalty from replacement Fred Zeilinga followed by an intercept try from debutant SP Marais earned the Sharks a much-needed opening Absa Currie Cup win as they saw off the MTN Golden Lions 33-25 at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Friday.
The final score was not an accurate reflection of the game, as for much of the way it looked as though the visitors were going to win and thus inflict a second successive defeat on the Sharks.
But the Lions fluffed too many scoring chances, and had a try disallowed, before eventually relinquishing their lead as Zeilinga kicked his penalty eight minutes from fulltime.
That committed the Lions to all-out attack in their quest to regain the initiative, but not for the first time in the game they were made to pay for trying to run the ball in their own half as former Kings player Marais intercepted a lame pass to run just over 20 metres for the try.
The conversion put the Sharks more than a score ahead, and condemned the Lions to return to Johannesburg without even a solitary log point for their toil.
They did look as though they had grabbed two (one for the fourth try and one for losing by fewer than seven) when replacement Crysander Botha jetted over in the last minute, but for the second time on the night they were denied by a marginal call by the TMO.
It was not an outcome they would have envisaged when they led 17-6 after 18 minutes against a Sharks team that was much better in this match in the set scrums than they were in the opener against GWK Griquas a week ago, but which again started slowly and looks to still have issues in several areas of its game.
Anthony Volmink was the early hero for the Lions. After the two flyhalves, first Elton Jantjies for the Lions and then Butch James for the Sharks, had traded penalties, it was Volmink who scored a brilliant solo try to set the Sharks back on their heels.
Perhaps it’s unfair to call it a solo try, for it was set up by a great pass from impressive fullback Marnitz Boshoff, who had spotted the gap.
But that pass came right on the Lions’ own tryline, so Volmink did well to blister through and run the length of the field to score a spectacular try.
The Sharks’ first-line defence was suspect throughout the match and it is something they are going to have to work on if they want to go anywhere in the competition.
Their attacking play is a long way from sharp or organised at the moment either, and they were helped a bit by the mistakes the Lions made that kept them in the match.
It appeared to be a habit of the Lions to concede a penalty straight after they scored points of their own, and they conceded a penalty in their own half straight after the Volmink try that brought the Sharks back to 10-6.
Volmink’s night wasn’t done though, and a poor float pass from Sharks debutant Heimar Williams was intercepted by the Bredasdorp-reared flyer who was able to cross the line without being touched to put his team well ahead.
It was one blot on the copy-book of an otherwise satisfactory debut for Williams, and he made up for his error in conceding the intercept by rounding off the second Sharks try that propelled the hosts into a 20-17 halftime lead.
Before that flanker Brynard Stander had thrust his way over the line for try No 1 after an impressive forward-dominated build-up that featured strong driving from Jean Deysel.
The bulky Deysel was the best player in the Sharks team by some distance on the night and also the most influential player on the field, as it looked as though he almost single-handedly took charge of the Sharks’ destiny with his powerful driving play.
Deysel never touched the ball without propelling himself several metres across the gainline, and was the stand-out feature of a Sharks team that otherwise struggled.
They did scrum strongly though, particularly in the first half, and that was a positive step forward after the previous week, while the Lions’ lineout struggled, with hooker Martin Bezuidenhout failing to find his jumpers with any consistency in the first half. It was a Bezuidenhout throw over the top that found Deysel near his own line that led ultimately to the Williams try.
MARRED BY ERRORS
Not that first phase was hugely influential given the number of turnovers on the night in a match that was marred by errors from both sides.
The Lions were stronger in the second half than they were in the first, winning more possession that was used by a rapidly improving Elton Jantjies to keep the Sharks under pressure.
The No 10 certainly looks more at home in a Lions jersey than he did with the Stormers in Super Rugby, with his confident taking of the ball at the line posing problems for a poorly organised Sharks defensive system.
On a night of good individual work in the creation of tries, Jaco Kriel’s 48th-minute effort, chipping the ball over a Sharks defender to gather himself and go over near the corner, was right up there with the two Volmink scores.
Ironically, that Lions try came just after Sharks fullback Odwa Ndungane had come back onto the field after spending 10 minutes in the sinbin after being carded for a high and dangerous tackle on Jantjies which left the Lions flyhalf’s face a bit bloodied.
The score put the Lions in front but Jantjies’ failure to kick the difficult conversion and yet another penalty conceded straight after the restart following a Lions score, enabled the Sharks to go back into the lead straight away with another James penalty.
Jantjies reclaimed the lead for the Lions with a quarter of an hour remaining, but before that Boshoff had dotted down what looked a good try only for the TMO to adjudge that CJ van der Linde had interfered with a Sharks defender in the build-up.
SHARKS – Tries: Brynard Stander, Heimar Williams, SP Marais. Conversions: Butch James (2), Fred Zeilinger. Penalties: Butch James (3), Zeilinger.
MTN GOLDEN LIONS – Tries: Anthony Volmink (2), Jaco Kriel. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies (2).