The Sharks stuttered to an ultimately convincing, yet far from emphatic victory over a brave Reds outfit at ABSA Stadium in Durban on Saturday night. The teams were locked at 10-all at halftime, but the Sharks scored 12 unanswered points in the second half to win 22-10.
Once again, the Sharks will rue the fact that they failed to secure a four-try bonus point against weaker opposition and they will be the first to admit that their finishing is far from clinical this year. A first-half try to Odwa Ndungane came very much against the run of play, as the visitors had the better of territory and possession in the first 40. Flanker David Croft took advantage of some sloppy Sharks defence after a poor lineout throw to score in the corner just before the break to erase the deficit, although the Sharks can once again thank their usually solid defensive pattern for repelling the Reds time and again.
The second half was all Sharks, yet again they should have had a better return for their dominance than two tries. The first came to Stefan Terblanche after an hour, after good work off the base of the scrum from new recruit Epi Tainone and replacement scrumhalf Rory Kockott. Man-of-the-match Bismarck du Plessis crashed over a few minutes later to put the result beyond doubt and the Sharks were pushing hard for the fourth when the final whistle caught up with them.
One felt that the referee’s decisions on the day, particularly in the second half, were somewhat lenient towards the visitors, in particular during one spell when the Sharks were camped on their goal line only to be denied. Then again, Ryan Kankowski’s trademark fluffy handling at the base was what ultimately put paid to the promising field position.
Frans Steyn was again woeful at flyhalf, although Brad Barritt was hardly better one position outside and between the two of them they conspired to ensure that very little ball got anywhere near the dangerous outside backs. Fred Michalak and Kockott injected some much needed flair when they came on and must surely be the first-choice halfbacks as the Sharks look to continue their momentum overseas.
Still, 6 from 6 and clear in second with a game in hand is a nice position to be in. As for the Reds, well, they’re a better team this year than we thought they would be and I reckon they’re going to give the poor Cheetahs a hiding next weekend.
Sharks (22) Tries by Odwa Ndungane, Stefan Terblanche and Bismarck du Plessis. A conversion each to Ruan Pienaar and Rory Kockott and a drop-goal by Terblanche.
Reds (10) Try by David Croft. A conversion and a penalty to Clinton Schifcofske.