SP Marais has scored an intercept try to seal a 33-25 win for the Sharks over the Lions at Kings Park.
It was the visitors who started better, with the Sharks guilty of letting the game get away from them early one – for the second week in a row. To be fair, it was the Sharks who were dominant and attacking for much of the early play, but the Lions came away with the points all the same. Left wing Anthony Volminck scored an amazing 80m turnover try after a silly dink from Butch James on attack landed in the winger’s waiting arms; he repeated the feat a few minutes later when intercepting a flat ball from Heimar Williams and before you could really blink, the home side were trailing by 6 points to 17.
Much as they did last week, though, the Sharks rallied to dominate the contest for the rest of the half, with first-ever Sharks tries for Brynanrd Stander (after a multi-phase move that saw Jean Deysel prominent) and Williams. Butch James, unerring with the boot if so-so in general play, converted both and it was the home side who led 20-17 with just a few minutes of the half to play. They were denied the opportunity to press home that advantage though, with Odwa Ndungane yellow-carded for what looked like an accidental high tackle on Elton Jantjies, just before the break.
The Sharks held on, despite some constructive play from the Lions, while Ndungane was off, only to concede a score shortly after he returned; in this case, some disinterested play from Lwazi Mvovo saw an attacking ball spilled and it fell to Lions flanker Jaco Kriel to chip over the head of the self-same Mvovo to finish off the resulting move. Jantjies, who by this stage had started to take more control of the game as he ran well at the line, fluffed his lines with the conversion, leaving the Sharks a scant two points adrift. The Sharks struck back virtually straight from the kick-off, with James nudging over his last kick of the night, before the impressive Fred Zeilinga took over at pivot.
It was the 20-year-old from Newcastle who arguably put in the most important touches in the last quarter, as the Sharks went on finish stronger and seal the result. While the Lions admittedly had two tries of their own disallowed for various incidents of obstruction and off-side, Zeilinga’s good penalty and superb raking touch-finder, which set up the lineout that led to Marais’s try, proved telling.
The Lions will feel that they really deserved far more from a game that they controlled for long periods, but ultimately their composure let them down at crucial stages, while their set-piece work, particularly in the first half, was dire. The Sharks enjoyed better scrums and line-outs this week, but their first-up defence and option-taking was poor overall, leaving plenty for the coaches to work on during the week.
In a competition as close as this, though, you take your wins from whence they come and with this home game safely in the bag, it’s finally a case of “mission accomplished” for this Sharks side.
Sharks (33): Tries Bry Stander, Heimar Williams, SP Marais. Conversions Butch James (2), Fred Zeilinga. Penalties James (3), Zeilinga.
Lions (25): Tries Anthony Volminck (2), Jaco Kriel. Conversions Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties Jantjies (2).