It used to be said when South African teams toured Australasia in Vodacom Super Rugby that the final quarter of the final game was a bridge too far, but for the Sharks it proved to be the only bridge they did cross as they took control late in the game to beat the Western Force 23-13 in Perth on Friday.
Sadly that bridge might not be leading anywhere as they have left themselves with too much to do if they want to challenge for top honours, but it was a deserved win and it did show that although they may be injury ravaged and have looked a little jaded, there is still plenty of resolve within the squad.
There has been much said about the Sharks this week and they also did some talking in response to reports that there were divisions in the camp.
Ultimately though the only place to talk is on the field, and although they left it late in a game where they weren’t always that convincing, the elation showed by the players at the final whistle showed that they do still play for one another.
The win ended a sequence of five consecutive defeats, and while it probably won’t be enough to bring them back into the Super Rugby race, at least it will ensure that they fly home from Perth in a positive mood after a tour where they mostly struggled.
The Sharks effectively wrapped up the win in a tight game when Patrick Lambie kicked a penalty in the 66th minute to add to a Riaan Viljoen try that had broken a 13-all deadlock four minutes earlier.
A 10-point lead with the Sharks looking strong and playing most of the last quarter in the right areas of the field was always going to be too much for the eager but young and inexperienced Force team.
However the Sharks were helped by what can be considered quite a freaky occurrence in this year’s Super Rugby – an Australian TMO actually made a correct decision and ruled against an Australian team on Australian territory.
So maybe miracles do happen after all, with the incident coming in the 78th minute, the TMO ruling that the Force had been guilty of a small knock-on as they launched off the back of a ruck for a try.
If they had seen what happened earlier in the day in the game involving the Stormers, the Sharks might well have had their hearts in their mouths in the minute it took the TMO to make the decision.
The Force obviously thought they would benefit from a home-town decision as they all retreated to halfway when the TMO was deliberating.
But the Sharks had done what the Stormers failed to do by getting themselves out of range by then by taking their kicks at goal.
Lambie missed one from almost in front but he kicked the crucial points that enabled the Sharks to win with something to spare, and clearly the four-try bonus point wasn’t the focus for the Sharks that it was for the Stormers.
GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE
When you’ve lost a clutch of games in succession it’s just important to get back on the horse, and that is what the Sharks did as they head home at the start of the build-up to what could be an interesting derby against the Vodacom Bulls next weekend.
Viljoen was excellent in the second half and capped his good game with a try that was created by a good pass from centre Meyer Bosman, with the fullback surging through a gap in the Force midfield to score.
The Sharks had trailed by three points at halftime (10-7), but had started the second half strongly, keeping the ball close to the forwards and driving up initially, with Lambie leveling the scores with a penalty just three minutes into the half.
The Sharks flyhalf, who has shown a steady improvement in his general play through the tour, kicked another one eight minutes later to take his team into the lead, but Hayward was on target again three minutes later to tie the scores up again.
It was anyone’s game then, but with the help of some clever substitutions by the Sharks' management, the Sharks took charge of the match just at the stage when in the old days they would have expected to fade.
The Sharks have tended to start slowly and then finish strongly, so when they were only three points behind at halftime they may have been confident of winning the game.
They weren’t impressive in the first half and struggled again to round off their opportunities, but the success they had in getting across the advantage line through Willem Alberts showed promise for the Durbanites.
Alberts’ form should have pleased Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, as would that of his loose-forward partner Marcell Coetzee. Alberts featured strongly in the build-up to the first try, which was rounded off by No 8 and captain, Keegan Daniel.
Anton Bresler did his bit in helping Alberts and company pound the Force physically in the first half, and Pieter-Steph du Toit was impressive when he came on later and the Sharks benefited from the slow poison that had been applied earlier.
The only Force try was scored by Kyle Godwin just beyond the half hour mark, with the Force inside centre showing both good running and side-stepping skills as he beat JP Pietersen and Lwazi Mvovo on his way to the try.
Sharks – Tries: Keegan Daniel, Riaan Viljoen. Conversions: Patrick Lambie (2). Penalties: Lambie (3).
Western Force – Try: Kyle Godwin. Conversion: Jayden Hayward. Penalties: Hayward (2).