An impressive kicking display from Sharks XV flyhalf Fred Zeilinga helped his team hold off a brave South Western Districts team 26-22 (halftime 13-12) in their Vodacom Cup match at Outeniqua Park in George on Friday.
The hosts had looked on course for victory after six successful attempts at goal out of six from centre Jeff Taljard had given his side a 22-16 lead going into the final 15 minutes of the game. However, his counterpart Zeilinga kept the Sharks in touch with their opponents, and a 70th-minute try from substitute Sean Robinson broke SWD hearts after a courageous performance.
The game had been on a knife edge from the start, as Taljard’s penalty in the fourth minute was immediately cancelled by Zeilinga three minutes later. The accurate Taljard was then able to give his team some daylight, as his penalties in the 12th and 16th minutes edged his team ahead 9-3.
Zeilinga responded in the 27th minute with his second three-pointer of the game, but SWD continued to hold the Sharks at bay as Taljard again slotted over from the tee four minutes later. The visitors eventually burst into life two minutes before halftime, as flanker Francois Kleinhans crossed the whitewash to give his team a slender one-point advantage at the interval.
Yet it was the hosts who emerged stronger when the match resumed, and, with momentum beginning to shift, scrumhalf Mzo Dyanti dotted down in the 45th minute to put his team back in front. Taljard made no mistake with the conversion, and despite an immediate response by Zeilinga with a penalty two minutes later, SWD were able to restore their six-point advantage in the 50th minute as Taljard’s penalty took the score to 22-16.
But just as the Sharks appeared to be slipping to their first defeat of the season, some canny substitutions shifted the momentum. Relentless pressure earned them a penalty in the 67th minute, and Zeilinga wasn’t to be denied.
And three minutes later, the pressure finally told as Robinson slipped through for his match-winning try, and, despite their best efforts to regain the lead in the closing minutes, SWD were unable to break the defences of the visitors and had to settle for a bonus-point reverse.
For the Sharks, it marked their fourth successive win of the competition, and has seen them stretch their lead atop the Southern Section having reached 18 points.
For SWD, the bonus-point defeat sees them temporarily move up to fifth place, albeit with three games still to play this weekend in their conference.
South Western Districts – Try: Mzo Dyanti; Conversion: Jeff Taljard; Penalties: Jeff Taljard (5)
Sharks XV – Tries: Francois Kleinhans, Sean Robinson; Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (2); Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (4)