GARETH DUNCAN watched the Sharks record a 34-20 bonus-point win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
While it wasn’t a convincing 80-minute performance, it was an important triumph as the Sharks continue to strengthen their play-off chances after an inconsistent and poor start to the season.
There’s a new look to John Plumtree’s charges compared to the team that disappointed in March and April. Against the Cheetahs, they displayed a more accurate and clinical attack, while their defence showed great resolve. Flyhalf Frederic Michalak was also impressive with the boot, slotting six of seven goal attempts.
Their ill-discipline is a concern and it gave the hosts a platform to reduce a 10-point deficit early in the second stanza, but the Sharks had great composure in the final quarter to grab a fourth try at the death to seal a 14-point win.
It was a closely-contested first half as the lead changed hands four times. The Sharks dominated the forwards battle, which was pivotal in the build-up of two of their three tries in the opening stanza.
The first score came during the opening moments, when the Durban outfit ran 12 phases before JP Pietersen sneaked in at the corner. Bismarck du Plessis was powerful in the build-up, as his carries broke the Cheetahs defence on two occasions.
The Sharks dotted down for a second try after Michalak capitalised on a favourable bounce in the Cheetahs red zone. A penalty tap move, which involved good interplay between forwards and backs, saw the visitors power over on the stroke of half-time.
But they would’ve been disappointed with a 21-14 lead at the break. The Cheetahs scored a soft try via Adriaan Strauss as the Sharks should’ve forced play into touch. Riaan Smit also slotted three penalties.
The Sharks slumped in the third quarter, with Du Plessis receiving a yellow card for a no-arms charge. During his absence, Sias Ebersohn slotted two penalties to cut the Sharks’ advantage. The Cheetahs had a good chance to score their second try, but they were penalised for illegal clearing at the rucks, 5m out from the chalk.
When Du Plessis returned from the sin bin, the Sharks regained the ascendancy and the Cheetahs’ fight faded. After being frustrated on attack for most parts of the final 40, a late rally put Meyer Bosman through out wide – a fine finish to clinch a vital victory.