Pat Lambie scored 19 points as the Sharks downed the Cheetahs.
The Sharks won 29-22 and were forced to dig deep to secure the victory. They led 26-5 with 20 minutes to go before the home team launched a fantastic comeback.
The Cheetahs got off to the ideal start, scoring a try early in the first half from a rolling maul, Philip van der Walt falling over the chalk. Johan Goosen missed an early long-range penalty and the try’s conversion.
Lambie on the other hand, slotted three consecutive penalties to take the lead for the first time and converted the Mvovo try to contribute 11 points in the first half alone. Mvovo’s try came from broken play after a messy lineout ball was wildly tapped on the Sharks’ side, which Mvovo ran onto at pace and ran to the tryline untouched.
The Cheetahs threatened late in the first half, but the Sharks’ defence was impressive and the home side could not reduce the deficit before half time.
The second half continued in much the same vain, the Sharks scoring another 10 points through a try from Marcell Coetzee, and the conversion and another penalty from Lambie. The Sharks had a 21 point lead and the game seemed all but over.
But step up Sarel Pretorius, who was the kick up the backside the Cheetahs needed. His speed and quick service almost single handedly got the Cheetahs back in this match. The Cheetahs hit back to score 17 unanswered points, two tries, both converted by Goosen and a penalty to bring the match to within three points for the home team.
The Sharks managed to held on though, their defence being the best attribute on the day. Lambie, who was announced man of the match, scored his 21st point late in the game, slotting his fifth penalty.
A poor crowd turned out for this season opener in Bloemfontein, but they were treated to an exciting, running game, something that has become something of a given at a Cheetahs match.
The Cheetahs’ slow start could well be as a result of Johan Goosen not having had any preseason gametime and taking some time to find his feet, his decision making and kicking letting him down in the first half. Piet van Zyl was also not in the best form, Sarel Pretorius pushing to start the next match after his magnificent performance tonight.
The Cheetahs battled in the set pieces, their lineouts were a complete shambles, probably as a result of their two first choice locks being out injured, while they struggled to get the upper hand at scrum time.
For the Sharks, one cannot say much more about the game plan at this stage, but their maturity showed as a Sharks team of two years ago would not have held on for this victory. Whether this comes down to the leadership within the team, Frans Steyn being the new captain, or just experience of past results finally paying dividends, remains to be seen.
They dominated at scrum time, and the backline showed some pace from speedsters such as Mvovo, Pietersen and Jordaan. Coach John Plumtree should be happy, but knowing the perfectionist he is, he would like the team to improve on their handling and possession lost stats.
The Sharks now host the Stormers in Durban, a match that is a repeat of the semi-final last year, a match that will go a long way indicating the top South African conference team.
By Richard Ferguson