On a day when their set pieces could be described as shambolic at best, the Sharks came back strongly to secure an ultimately convincing 25 point to 13 win over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this afternoon. Inside centre Patrick Lambie dotted down twice within the last five minutes and his 20-point haul from the game saw him deservedly crowned man of the match.
In a first half marked by a distinct lack of intensity, the Sharks ended up giving themselves a lot of ground to make up, after conceding a 10 point lead at the break. An early penalty by Louis Strydom was cancelled out by Lambie after 21 minutes, but worryingly for the visitors, those three points were their sole reward during the ten minutes that Cheetahs scrumhalf Tewis de Bruyn spent on the sidelines after being carded for a wild punch. With the scrums and lineouts generally resulting in either conceded penalties or turned-over possession, the hosts enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession in the opening period and the Sharks lacked composure and penetration on the few occasions that they did manage to get their hands on the pill. A serious injury to Steve Meyer on the half-hour that saw Ruan Pienaar move into the flyhalf position, did little to improve the rhythm amongst the backs and while Charl McLeod was his usual livewire self at the base, the Sharks inside backs displayed very little rhythm or fluidity on attack.
The Cheetahs, it must be said, weren’t honestly much better and outside of the bustling runs of number 8 Ashley Johnson (far and away their best player on the day), there was precious little to write home about in terms of attacking play from the hosts. Their only try, scored on the half-hour mark, came courtesy of de Bruyn wrong-footing Sharks prop Wiehahn Herbst after a quick-tap penalty. Strydom duly slotted the conversion and added three further points early in the second half to end the Cheetahs’ scoring in this game.
The Sharks, however, weren’t done. The introduction of some serious beef off the bench, in the form of first Beast Mtawarira, then Willem Alberts and most tellingly, Jean Deysel, served to swing the momentum of the game and by the time the last-mentioned came on with 17 minutes to play, the Sharks finally managed to get on top of the forward contest and duly bought themselves within a score courtesy of a second Lambie penalty. The loss of talismanic skipper Juan Smith to yet another concussion left the Cheetahs rudderless and the dam wall eventually started to give way with 10 minutes on the clock, when a superb offload from Lambie sent prop Eugene van Staden, on for Herbst, over for his maiden try in a Sharks jersey. The missed conversion left the Sharks with a two-point gap still to make up, before a superb counter, started by Ryan Kankowski five metres from the Sharks’ own goal-line, saw the lightning-quick number 8 combine superbly with left wing Lwazi Mvovo in a move that saw the pair pass backward and forth to one another for virtually 90 metres before the dreadlocked express was finally stopped five metres out. Charl McLeod took the ball on and did superbly to hang on, before Lambie scored the first of his brace by diving over to the left of the posts. The 19-year-old made no mistake with the conversion, but wasn’t quite finished scoring yet!
A second breakout, this time started by Andries Strauss but again carried on superbly by Mvovo saw Lambie go over in the right hand corner after some good linking play by Keegan Daniel. Lambie’s conversion moved the Sharks 12 points clear of the hosts and Naka Drotske’s men will be kicking themselves for emerging from this game with no log points whatsoever, given that they dominated possession, territory and (most importantly) the scoreboard for the majority of it. Fortune favours the brave, though and while the Sharks will have huge amounts to work on ahead of next week, they returned to Durban this evening assured of second place on the ABSA Currie Cup log.
Cheetahs: Try Tewis de Bruyn. Conversion and two penalties by Louis Strydom.
Sharks: Tries by Eugene can Staden and Patrick Lambie (2). Lambie added two conversions and two penalties.