The Sharks beat a game Pumas side in Witbank by 30 points to 14 this evening. After scoring the bonus point try within the first quarter of the match, the Sharks went to sleep and barely troubled the scorers for the next hour.
The Sharks initially looked to have matters completely in hand, as their high-tempo game yielded a try to Jacques Botes within the first five minutes, after a great break by Craig Burden in the Pumas 22. A terrible knock from Burden at the ensuing restart saw Pumas flyhalf Elgar Watts score straight afterwards, after a pass that looked suspiciously forward.
That setback only spurred the Sharks on, though, with Lwazi Mvovo and Odwa Nudnange quickly adding tries of their own, before Burden pounced on a loose ball to scoot through for the fourth. Pat Lambie’s boot was a little erratic on the night, but at 27-7 up, the Sharks were cruising.
Then the wheels fell off. The forwards started to cough up possession at the breakdown as the entire team seemingly went into “loose mode”. Charl McLeod was hustled and harried at the base too and as the knock-ons and turnovers mounted, so too did the Pumas’ possession stat. A worryingly porous midfield provided a welcoming channel for the big Pumas forwards to run at and had it not been for some desperate defence on the line, coupled with some sloppy finishing from the home side, the Sharks may have conceded more than the one additional try that they did. This came virtually on the stroke of half-time as the hosts drove over from a 5m lineout. Lambie had earlier succeeded with a penalty, so the Sharks went into the shed 27-14 ahead.
Matters didn’t improve much in the second period, with a second Lambie penalty proving to be the only points either side could score in the half. The Sharks managed a fair bit more possession and to their credit, dominated territory, but the same inaccuracy on attack that cost them the game last week in Pretoria was very much in evidence. Numerous promising attacks were snuffed out due to the sort of “white line fever” that should never have affected such a talented and experienced team. Credit must go to the Pumas, though, for tenacious defence throughout and perhaps in an away game, against a tough opponent who have already claimed one huge scalp this season, we shouldn’t be too hard on the Sharks.
Then again, champion teams measure themselves against their own high standards and if that is to be the yardstick, the Sharks fell far short of the sort of performance that they would have been hoping for tonight. They’ll go back to Durban with their lead at the top of the log now 13 points, but knowing that a similar performance against the Cheetahs in Durban WILL result in defeat.
Pumas (14) – tries by Elgar Watts and Corne Steenkamp. 2 conversions by Braam Pretorius
Sharks (30) – tries by Jacques Botes, Lwazi Mvovo, Odwa Ndungane and Craig Burden. 2 penalties and 2 conversions by Pat Lambie.