Stumbling Sharks edge Force

The Sharks beat the Force 27-22 but again failed to secure a bonus point at Kings Park.

All the talk from the Sharks in the build-up was that one of their main motivations was to provide a fitting send-off for the departing pair of Johann Muller and Deon Carstens. The injured duo are off to British clubs and although they would have been happy with victory, the Sharks were again unable to secure five log points (they’ve only done it once this season).

The hosts failed to replicate the intensity of last week’s Stormers’ match and although they outscored the Force three tries to one, they had to hang on for the win in the closing minutes.

From the first kick-off the Force took the ball through 16 phases, but didn’t look like breaching the Sharks’ abrasive and organised defence. The Force won a penalty straight in front of the poles but didn’t opt for three points. A big scrum from Sharks forced the turnover, and two minutes later the visitors found themselves standing behind their own sticks as Lwazi Mvovo cantered over.

Ruan Pienaar nailed the touchline conversion as the hosts led 7-0 after eight minutes.

The Force made three changes to their pack in an attempt to match the Sharks’ physicality, and for the first half they did exactly that as the Sharks played behind the gain line. They missed the injured Willem Alberts as Jean Deysel stood man alone. He had another momentous game with ball in hand and on defence, while his ability on the deck also won his side turnovers.

The Sharks’ scrum was wreaking havoc, but the Force controlled possession and two long-range penalties from Brett Sheehan narrowed the gap to one.

As has been the case for most of the season, the Sharks’ attack lacked precision and creativity, and a dropped ball led to a third penalty for the visitors. James O’Connor knocked over his second on the 31-minute mark, again the Sharks’ predictable offence to blame as Rory Kockott isolated himself, and they fell behind 12-7.

The Sharks were also guilty of not appreciating territory, but when they played in the correct areas, they were rewarded. Off the platform of a perfect right-shoulder scrum 5m out, Ryan Kankowski beat one defender as his side reclaimed the lead.

The sides traded penalties as the hosts led 17-15 at the break, but it was always the Sharks’ match to lose.

They controlled the opening 10 minutes of the second half, camping in the Force 22. The visitors battled to handle the Sharks’ pack, and the driving maul sent Jacques Botes over. With half an hour remaining, the hosts led 24-15.

Mark Bartholomeusz was a late replacement for David Hill at flyhalf, and while the Sharks had to do most of the tackling and the Force tried to move the ball around, their finishing let them down. Matt Dunning was guilty on one occasion as he fumbled the ball with an open line.

The Sharks were culpable of a similar offence on the Force line, and the visitors made them pay. O’Connor’s break from behind his own line sent Ryan Cross away, who in turn put Nick Cummins over. At 24-22, the Force smelt an upset.

The Sharks should have put the result beyond doubt, but they continued to play from deep in their own territory. The Force made numerous linebreaks, but the final pass continuously went astray, costing them the win.

The Sharks ended the season with seven wins out of their last eight fixtures, but will still end in the bottom half of the log. For a side with their quality, that isn’t good enough.

By Grant Ball