GARETH DUNCAN watched the Sharks overturn a 16-6 half-time deficit into a 34-16 bonus-point win against the Brumbies in Durban.
After a disappointing 47-36 defeat to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend and a poor run of seven defeats in nine games, the out-of-form Brumbies weren’t expected to be much of a threat to the Sharks at Kings Park. But the hosts made it difficult for themselves.
They were straight-out poor in the first 40, which saw the visitors deservedly in front at the break. Despite having more possession, the Sharks weren’t effective with ball in hand and they lacked discipline on defence. The main difference in the first stanza was the finishing. After five visits to the opposition’s red zone and three clear try-scoring opportunities, the home team could only score six points. From four trips, the Brumbies managed 16.
But kudos to the Sharks for not panicking. They delivered a stronger and more clinical second-half showing as tries from JP Pietersen, Steven Sykes, Adi Jacobs and Anton Bresler and an impressive kicking display from Pat Lambie (six from seven goals attempts) saw the home team seal the win. They were also resilient on defence as they kept the men from Canberra scoreless in the second half.
The Brumbies hit a purple match in the first quarter as they scored 13 unanswered points for an early advantage. Matt Giteau slotted two penalties in the opening 10 minutes before Christian Lealiifano finished off a counter attack that was created by a kick ahead from the other end of the field.
The Sharks gained the ascendancy and bossed most of the possession from thereon. With their attacking momentum, they broke into the visitors’ red zone on several occasions but struggled to reach the chalk. The only return they received from their efforts was two Lambie three-pointers. Giteau kicked his third penalty to give the Brumbies a 10-point advantage.
The hosts dominated after the restart. Pietersen scored from close range before the Sharks pack won a turnover from a 5m scrum and Sykes capitalised. In the final quarter, Bismarck du Plessis crafted Jacobs’ break from midfield for the third score and Bresler crashed over for a crucial four-try bonus point.
In the end, it was mission accomplished. The five log points will be useful with both the Highlanders and Stormers losing this weekend. However, John Plumtree will need to ensure the Sharks deliver stronger starts to their games as tougher opponents could’ve easily picked up a win against a similar first-half misfiring.