The Sharks have shown great resolve and grit on defence to edge out the Lions by 31 points to 25 at Ellis Park.
It wasn’t so much a “game of two halves” as one of four quarters, with the Sharks blazing out of the blocks to dominate territory and possession in the opening 20 minutes. Flyhalf Fred Zeilinga took the contest by the scruff of the neck, stroking over two smooth drop goals before scything through the Lions defence to set up a try that he himself scored, taking the pass back from lock Stephan Lewies. With Zeilinga then nailing a penalty to complete his full-house, the Sharks lead 16-3 with the match just 21 minutes old.
It was the Lions who then took control, with their far stronger scrum and more dependable line-out ensuring a surfeit of possession, which they put to good use. A try to captain Derick Minnie followed in the 26th minute, with Elton Jantjies then banging over a penalty of his own to bring them back within a few. They struck again just before the break, Warren Whiteley trundling over to give his side a 20-16 lead at half time. The Sharks were left scratching their heads after their good start had disappeared and their points advantage erased by Lions pressure.
Zeilinga nailed a monster from all of 57m on the angle shortly after the break to bring his side back within 1, with a superb bit of quick thinking from Charl McLeod responsible for SP Marais’s try shortly thereafter. The scrumhalf tapped a penalty and outstripped the defence with his pace, before drawing the last defender and finding the galloping fullback on the inside. With a quarter of the game to go, the Sharks were again on top, but a slew of replacements disrupted their momentum, with the lineout in particular falling apart as the half went on. The Lions capitalised and scored a great try against the tiring Sharks through flanker Jaco Kriel, but it was replacement scrumhalf Cobus Reinach who had the last laugh, peeling away from the back of a rare successful lineout drive from the Sharks and sprinting in from about 40m out.
Zeilinga’s conversion gave the Sharks a 6-point lead, which they held to the end, despite wave after wave of Lions attack in the last 10 minutes. The win sees the Sharks assured of a semi-final berth and also maintain their top-of-log standing for another week.
Scores: Lions (25): Tries by Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Warren Whiteley. Conversions Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties Jantjies (2).
Sharks (31): Tries Fred Zeilinga, SP Marais, Cobus Reinach. Conversions Fred Zeilinga (2). Penalties Zeilinga (2). Drop goals Zeilinga (2).Tweet