The Sharks resisted a second half fightback to hold on for a 43-34 victory over the Cheetahs.
How much difference a week has made for the Sharks. Ordinary against the Pumas in Nelspruit last week, an impressive first half this afternoon set up this victory. They had sealed the bonus point, and seemingly the match, within 20 minutes. The Cheetahs’ second half rebuttal caused a nervous finish, but you sensed the Sharks were always in control.
The Cheetahs simply could not live with the physicality and pace their hosts brought to the contest in the first quarter, and fundamental errors, particularly on defence, further undermined their challenge. The Sharks were guilty of misplaced ambition after the five points had been secured, and will be disappointed at conceding four tries, but overall coach John Plumtree would have been pleased.
They hit the Cheetahs with an early double, wing Mark Richards burning the cover defence for the first, before Louis Ludik strolled through a generous defensive line. Frederic Michalak converted both scores.
Sias Ebersohn kicked a penalty, but the Sharks soon extended their lead, Jacques Botes finishing a move that featured kicks ahead by Stefan Terblanche and Ross Cronje. They brought up their bonus-point with the best of their tries, Cronje setting a counter-attack in motion before the Sibusiso Sitole broke the line and sprinted 70m to score.
The Cheetahs scored either side of Botes’ second, the latter just before the break, which would have stirred in the the faint hope of a rebound.
They would get to within nine points of the Sharks (40-31) and six with with eight minutes to play – WP Nel and Corner Uys crossing the whitewash while Ebesohn slotted the conversions and a penalty – to set up a tense finish. Michalak, however, put the result beyond doubt with a penalty two minutes from full-time