Two crucial errors from the Lions halfbacks within 6 minutes of each other resulted in a 14-point blitz that saw the Sharks eventually emerge as comfortable winners in an exciting match at ABSA Stadium yesterday. The Sharks scored five tries to the Lions one and were good value for their 48-19 win, although John Mitchell’s side will feel the scoreline is no reflection on the way they played the game, particularly in the first half.
They key factors in the build-up to the match were two-fold. With either side boasting a 19-year-old at flyhalf, the question on everybody’s lips was whether Pat Lambie or Elton Jantjes would emerge victorious. The amazing power and versatility of the Sharks back row, with both Jean Deysel and Jacques Botes named on the bench was the other factor, one presumed to be a telling advantage in favour of the hosts. This latter factor was not to be, however, with Ryan Kankowski crying off injured before the game. His replacement in the starting lineup, Deysel, went off after 5 minutes with a knee injury and it appears as though his Currie Cup season may have been curtailed yet again, before it has really begun.
The Sharks forwards were utterly superb, nonetheless and it was particularly at the breakdown and on the pick-and-drive that they completely overshadowed their Lions counterparts. While huge applause must go to the Joburg team for the way they defended and kept the Sharks out for the majority of the first 40 minutes, the efficiency with which the Sharks pack held onto and recycled ball was wondrous to behold and with the home side regularly keeping the ball for 8 phases or more, only superb tackling from the Lions managed to restrict them to two tries in the first half. With Lambie dominating proceedings behind a rampant pack, there unfortunately wasn’t a whole lot for Jantjes and the rest of the Lions team to do other than tackle, tackle and tackle some more.
They showed that they are dangerous, though. After Lambie had scored the first 8 points via a penalty and a superb individual try, the Lions came straight back as Deon van Rensburg pounced on a poorly-executed grubber from Stefan Terblanche and streaked through some average Sharks tackling to score. Jantjes’ boot kept his team in the hunt even after Jacques Botes scored the second and with a scant three points separating the teams at half time, it was virtually anybody’s game, the Sharks’ forward supremacy notwithstanding.
To be fair, the Lions superb ball-in-hand play once they did manage to get some more possession early in the second half appeared to rattle the Sharks and while poor finishing robbed the visitors of any further tries, they were certainly well in the contest right up until the 47th minute, when Jantjes threw a looping pass straight to Lwazi Mvovo, who galloped in to score the Sharks’ third. Jano Vermaak repeated the feat not six minutes later as his telegraphed pass was pounced on by the impressive Craig Burden, the hooker swallow-diving under the posts to give the Sharks their bonus point and sew up the victory. Lambie hammered the nails in properly as he slotted two further penalties, before converting Mvovo’s late second try for a personal haul of 28 points and a clear victory over his rival Jantjes.
The Sharks will take huge relief from this win, knowing that the Lions team that showed up to play was nowhere near as weak, either in talent or in spirit, as anybody would have been expecting and for large periods of the game looked the more dangerous team with ball in hand, despite the paucity of possession they had to endure. This was a tough test, all right and one the well-schooled Sharks passed with flying colours. Lambie showed that he is destined to be a future great at pivot and the only thing now causing John Plumtree and his team any concern will be the looming spectre of mass Springbok call-ups disrupting his team with the crunch match against Western Province now only two weeks away.Tweet