Odwa Ndungane scored a brace of tries as the Sharks moved to the top of the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division standings after their 37-30 win (half-time 15-10) over the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in their match at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Left wing Ndungane dotted down twice in the first half as the Sharks secured the bonus-point win to take a two-point lead over the MTN Golden Lions at the top of the table.
The Cheetahs managed to grab a late bonus point for losing by less than seven points to move to fifth on the standings and drop the Vodacom Blue Bulls to the bottom of the log with both teams on 18 points although the Cheetahs have a better points’ differential.
The Cheetahs dominated the first quarter and they took advantage of some listless Sharks’ defending to gallop into a 10-0 lead after 11 minutes. The Sharks would go on to miss 24 tackles in the first half.
Right wing Nico Scheepers opened the scoring for the hosts with an early penalty before the impressive left wing Raymond Rhule showed wonderful pace and strength to step inside the Sharks’ defence before cantering over for a converted try.
The Sharks stopped the bleeding courtesy of a penalty from flyhalf Meyer Bosman in the 16th minute before the visitors clawed their way back onto the contest thanks to two tries from Ndungane.
The first try came in the 24th minute after a midfield break from replacement hooker Kyle Cooper before some good interplay between Ndungane and his wing partner JP Pietersen saw Ndungane cross for a converted score.
The match was being played at a breakneck pace and the Sharks took the lead for the first time in the 34th minute when they opted to take a quick tap penalty five metres from the Cheetahs’ line on the left-hand side of the field.
The visitors shifted the ball down the backline and Ndungane was on hand to round off the move in the right-hand corner as the Sharks went to the break holding a 15-10 lead.
The Sharks made a magnificent start to the second half when they scored straight from the kick-off after eighthman Keegan Daniel put in a speculative kick that was chased down by outside centre Paul Jordaan, who collected the ball before scoring between the poles.
Scheepers and Bosman then traded penalties before the Cheetahs narrowed the gap in the 54th minute when scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius stretched out to score a converted try after a prolonged spell of pressure on the Sharks’ tryline before a Scheepers penalty with 13 minutes to play cut the deficit to just two points.
But the Sharks wrapped up the match in the 71st minute when flank Jacques Botes was mauled over for a converted try before Cooper bulldozed his way over with just two minutes left in the contest.
The hosts grabbed their bonus point with just seconds left in the contest when Rhule went over for a converted try.
TOYOTA FREE STATE CHEETAHS – Tries: Raymond Rhule (2), Sarel Pretorius; Conversions: Nico Scheepers (2); Penalties: Scheepers (3).
THE SHARKS – Tries: Odwa Ndungane (2), Paul Jordaan, Jacques Botes, Kyle Cooper; Conversions: Meyer Bosman (3); Penalties: Bosman (2).