The Sharks started the final weekend of the league stage of Absa Currie Cup rugby clinching top spot on the log with a convincing 42-3 victory over Griquas at Mr Price Kings Park on Friday night.
The Durbanites just needed to win to make sure of prime position on the log going into the playoff phase, and once they had taken a 10-0 lead after 14 minutes there was seldom any doubt that they would achieve their objective. Keegan Daniel’s men will now wait until Saturday’s round of matches before finding out who their semifinal opponents will be in Durban next weekend.
The Sharks didn’t need to get the four-try bonus point but they got it anyway, with replacement flanker Lubabalo Mtembu dotting down in the left corner as Griquas ran out of defenders as the Sharks worked the ball left with 10 minutes to go in a one-sided game.
While the winners never really engaged top gear, they were always significantly better than a well beaten Griquas side that now has to wait to find out if they will advance to the semifinals. They will require Western Province to beat the Cheetahs and the Lions to beat the Bulls for that to be the case, but on Friday night they made it hard for themselves by lacking the intensity that they have displayed in their home games in Kimberley this season and against the Lions last week.
Griquas actually shaded the possession battle early on but slipped too many tackles, as many as five in the first 14 minutes, and that played a role in the Sharks dominating territory. Patrick Lambie, playing his first full game at flyhalf for quite a while, did everything and perhaps even a little more than could have been expected of him in his first game back after warming the Springbok bench.
He did miss a first-half penalty but he slotted most of his kicks, including the angled conversion from the touchline of the Mtembu try. His distribution was good, his tactical kicking was excellent and while Griquas were well below test level, he did at least show that he has remembered the essentials of flyhalf play.
It was his little kick through after taking the ball flat following a crash up by JP Pietersen that set up the second try in the 27th minute, with fullback Louis Ludik coming through to grab the ball and score. Lambie missed that conversion, but it meant the Sharks led 15-3 following a ninth-minute try scored by the impressive young scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, who featured twice in the movement as he drew in Odwa Ndungane before taking the return pass from the wing.
There was also a 14th minute penalty from Lambie, and although skipper Daniel spent the last 10 minutes of the half off the field after being yellow carded, a dangerous tackle by Griquas wing Jannie Boshoff saw the player numbers redressed. Lambie missed the penalty that resulted from the Boshoff tackle, but Lwazi Mvovo, on for Ndungane when he was injured in helping set up the first try, scored the third try two minutes from the break to propel his team into a 22-3 halftime lead.
While Sharks coach John Plumtree was resting some of his top players, he should be pleased with the form of some of the players who did play. Daniel continues to impress with every game, as does Jean Deysel, while apart from Lambie and Reinach the other impressive back was Pietersen, who is back in the mix after a fair injury layoff.
Lambie was the deserved recipient of the man of the match award and seemed to become more assured the longer the game lasted, and he was in the thick of things as the Sharks closed out the game in the second half.
Lambie kicked penalties in the 44th minute and the 50th before the Mtembu try and then a turn-over effort completed by replacement scrumhalf Charl McLeod ensured that there was plenty of light between the teams on the score that shone on the Kings Park scoreboard at the final hooter.
SHARKS 42 – Tries: Cobus Reinach, Louis Ludik, Lwazi Mvovo, Lubabalo Mtembu and Charl McLeod; Conversions: Patrick Lambie 4; Penalties: Patrick Lambie 3.
GRIQUAS 3 – Penalty: Francois Brummer.