GARETH DUNCAN watched the Sharks secure a top-two finish on the Currie Cup log with a 53-9 drubbing of the Lions in Durban.
With the Cheetahs achieving a 49-39 bonus-point victory over Griquas in Bloemfontein and boasting a superior points difference on the overall table, the Sharks needed a four-try win over a weakened Lions outfit at King’s Park to ensure they would host their play-off fixture next Saturday. And it mission accomplished for John Plumtree’s men, who demolished their opponents with an impressive all-round performance.
The Sharks scored their four tries by the 57th minute, with No 8 Ryan Kankowski grabbing a brace. With the Lions only managing three penalties up to that point, replacement wing JP Pietersen scored an interception try in the 65th minute to confirm the triumph. There was further assault with replacement flanker Jacques Botes and reserve centre Stefan Terblanche crossing the chalk for late scores at the death.
The Sharks’ defence also deserves credit as they kept the Lions try-less while flyhalf Frederic Michalak shone with the boot, converting all seven of his goal attempts.
With the Lions already confirmed top spot on the log prior to kickoff, head coach John Mitchell made seven changes to his starting line-up and named his only returning Springbok Butch James on the bench. Plumtree selected most of his returning Springboks amongst the reserves, with only wing Odwa Ndungane and fullback Pat Lambie making the run-on side.
The Sharks enjoyed a stronger first half showing, but it was still a close contest on the scoreboard in the first quarter as Michalak’s try was countered by opposite number Burton Francis’ two penalties. The turning point in the opening 40 was lock Michael Rhodes’ yellow card for a tip tackle, which saw the Sharks hold ascendancy with their one-man advantage. But despite creating several try-scoring opportunities thereafter, they could only profit through Kankowski for a 14-6 scoreline at the break.
It was all Sharks in the second stanza as Plumtree called the Du Plessis brothers and flanker Willem Alberts off the bench shortly after the restart. This saw the Sharks heavies dominate their couterparts and set the platform for the convincing win and the Lions’ third loss of their campaign.
The result sees the Sharks tackle the Cheetahs in Durban (14:30 k/o) and the Lions take on WP in Johannesburg (17:00 k/o). Both semi-finals will be played next Saturday.