JON CARDINELLI watched the Sharks fight back from a 17-point deficit to beat the Reds 27-22 on Saturday.
The hosts trailed 17-0 after 28 minutes despite a gale force wind at their backs. It was during this period where they looked a frantic and disorganised unit, dropping passes and missing tackles to allow the Reds’ momentum and scoring opportunities. At that stage of the game, they were staring down the barrell of a big hiding.
But it was in that period right before half-time where they showed a belief that belied their inferior breakdown effort and lack of synergy. Replacement lock Jandre Marais rumbled over the line following an outstanding build up, and a Pat Lambie conversion further narrowed the deficit.
Reds winger Digby Ioane was also yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle right on the half-time buzzer, allowing Lambie to add an extra three points before the break.
Two different teams emerged from the Kings Park tunnel in the second half. The hosts drew confidence from the manner in which they had finished the first half, while the Reds’ grew more desperate as the game wore on.
The visitors’ effort was seriously hampered when they lost first-choice goal-kicker Mike Harris in the 23rd minute and flyhalf Ben Lucas early in the second stanza. This meant that the dangerous Will Genia was forced to stand in the first-receiver channel, thus eliminating the tremendous threat around the ruck which had caused the Sharks defence massive problems in the first half.
The Reds scrapped for survival, but while they only conceded six points during Ioane’s absence, they failed to get out of their own territory.
Keegan Daniel made a fantastic call as a captain, turning down the three-point option and keeping the heat on the Reds. It was fitting that he eventually breached the visitors’ defence, breaking from the back of the scrum to help the Sharks take a 20-17 lead.
While the Sharks never quite closed out the match, they had the momentum for the rest of the contest. Apart from Daniel, Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee were huge at the point of contact, and Bismarck du Plessis produced a magnificent performance at the breakdown. So often it was the Springbok hooker who effected a turnover that led to a telling counter-attack.
The Reds looked to have wrested back the initiative when reserve halfback Nick Frisby intercepted a Sharks pass and sparked a try. But the Sharks hit back immediately thanks to a Du Plessis turnover deep in Reds territory.
The heavies took the ball up before it was moved out wide, Riaan Viljoen not only crossing the line but dotting down closer to the uprights to ensure Lambie would enjoy an easier conversion attempt.
What followed was a frantic finish to the match, as both teams went all out to secure the clincher. Genia, the third-choice goal-kicker following the injuries to Harris and Lucas, had missed the conversion to Frisby’s try, and fluffed a simple penalty in the final 10 minutes.
It was thereafter where captain James Horwill was forced to turn down kickable penalties. Unfortunately for the Reds, they just couldn’t make an impression with ball in hand on an excellent and determined Sharks defence.
The hosts had the chance to score a bonus-point try close to full time, but were denied when the Reds turned the ball over at the breakdown. Considering the first-half deficit, coach John Plumtree will be ecstatic that the Sharks managed to get the four points let alone bank the maximum.
The result ensures the Sharks travel Down Under on the back of two good wins. For the Reds, it won’t get any easier as they will head up to Loftus Versfeld next week to tackle the Bulls.