A hat-trick of tries from flanker Jacques Botes inspired the Sharks to a 33-14 win over the Cheetahs at the ABSA Stadium which will keep them alive in the Super 14 for at least another week.
Gavin Rich writes for Sport24.
The Sharks scored five tries in a thrilling, fast paced match to secure themselves the full house of five log points that they were looking for to keep their challenge for a play-off on track, with next week’s final league match against the Chiefs still to come.
However the Sharks left it late for the bonus point try that they so desperately needed, and it looked they were destined to be frustrated as they were held to three tries going into the last two minutes.
Then came a Sharks turned over of a Cheetahs ball and Odwa Ndungane went through in the same manner in which Bryan Habana denied them a hold on the Super 14 trophy off the last move of last year’s final.
Then Ndungane ran in another just for good measure to put quite a bit of space between the Sharks and the Cheetahs on the scoreboard.
It was the best attacking performance of the season by some leap for the Sharks, with the backs functioning effectively perhaps for the first time.
Let it be said though that it is now May, so the dry ball you get in Durban at this time of the year would have been like manna from Heaven for the winners.
Botes crossed twice in the first half off the back of driving mauls before being up in support of left wing JP Pietersen for his third five minutes into the second half.
Then came a long period in which the Sharks’ best attacking opportunities were frustrated, and it even became possible that the Cheetahs might steal the game when Meyer Bosman raced through for a Cheetahs try.
That made it 19-14 to the Sharks with 15 minutes to go, and the danger for them was that in chasing the fourth try they had to risk possible defeat. It was knife-edge stuff, and it added to the atmosphere of the occasion.
The way the Sharks came through with so little time left was a good sign for them ahead of a possible semi-final, for there can be no denying after this that they do have ticker.
The Sharks started with a helter-skelter approach, trying to run the ball from all angles and everywhere on the field, but perhaps they overdid it as in the first quarter of an hour the did create the impression that they were trying to do the rugby equivalent of hitting sixes before playing themselves in.
The Sharks showed their intent with quick throw-in attempts and by trying to run the ball from deep inside their own territory, a policy which on a couple of occasions nearly got them into trouble.
They came close to scoring a good try in the eighth minute when Ryan Kankowski kicked a ball through but then messed up the opportunity when he shoved the man he was racing to the ball, Jongi Nokwe, and the TMO adjudged that it took Nokwe far enough away from his initial position for it to impact on his chances of tackling Odwa Ndungane, who came through and grabbed the bouncing ball to dot down.
The Sharks were the dominant team though when it came to territory and they were also shading the battle for possession, so it was not all that surprising when a few minutes later the Sharks won a lineout near the Cheetahs line and drove Botes over for the first try of the match.
The Cheetahs pack was however down to just seven men at the time, and they could feel a little hard done by for referee Willie Roos’ decision to yellow card lock Rory Duncan. It was the second high tackle that Duncan was penalised for in the space of just 13 minutes, but both of them were marginal calls.
Although they scored their first try off a lineout, the Sharks would have been disappointed with their performance in the phase, for they lost several balls against the throw, something which later prevented them from attaining momentum just when it was most needed.
Pietersen has not scored a try all season, but he was a creative presence in the next two, with his incursion into the line creating the space and advantage in numbers which eventually enabled the Sharks to set up Botes for the drive over the line from a loose-scrum.
The Cheetahs halted any premature Sharks celebrations on the stroke of half-time, with the impressive Heinrich Brussow carrying the ball upfield after an initial strike from the back by Hennie Danniller, before a quick recycle found Juan Smith in possession and his pass created the opportunity for the pacy Nokwe, who scored his sixth try of the season to cut the deficit to seven points at the break.
The Sharks would have been satisfied at half-time, but they still needed to score twice in the second half on a day when a bonus point victory was so crucially important. It looked like they might manage it at a canter when a long pass five minutes into the half from Francois Steyn found Pietersen, who fed Botes for try number three.
Sharks 33 – Tries: Jacques Botes 3 and Odwa Ndungane 2; Conversions: Rory Kockott 4.
Vodacom Cheetahs 14 – Tries: Jonghi Nokwe and Meyer Bosman; Conversions: Conrad Barnard and Tewis de Bruyn.Tweet