JON CARDINELLI watched the Sharks beat the Lions 32-20 to end their winless run in the 2012 Super Rugby competition.
The Sharks were hammered by the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and pipped by the Stormers at Newlands. They came into this clash desperately needing any kind of win, no matter how ugly.
From a results perspective, the men from Durban will be satisfied. They not only claimed their first win of the season but also a bonus-point for four tries. It may have taken them three games, but they are finally off the mark.
It was a stop-start game at Kings Park with both teams surrendering possession all too easily. The Sharks conceded a mass of penalties at the breakdown and also coughed up the ball in the tackle on too many occasions.
The Lions attempted to play the game at a lively pace but displayed very little control. Their counter-attacking surges often came to nought and coach John Mitchell will be livid with the high number of turnovers.
What helped the Sharks was their appreciation for territory. Flyhalf Pat Lambie had his best game of the season thus far, kicking the hosts into good field positions. He also converted some difficult goals during the first half to ensure the Sharks went to the shed with a substantial lead.
It was before the break where the Sharks scored the try of the game. The forwards finally managed to marry power and precision, keeping the ball through the phases to stretch the Lions’ defence. It was also during this movement that the Sharks backs showed some good hands, getting the ball to winger Lwazi Mvovo who highlighted his value as a finisher with a superb score.
For all their handling mistakes and lost possessions, the Lions just kept coming and coming. They marched the Sharks back towards the tryline and then struck through fullback Jaco Taute, who wrestled his way through several defenders to score.
It was an important strike on the hour, and ensured the Lions went into the final quarter with a chance of an upset.
Along with their inconsistencies at the breakdown, the Sharks battled to secure the ball at the lineout. Bismarck du Plessis failed to find his jumpers consistently and this robbed the hosts of a good attacking platform.
And yet, the Sharks still managed to get the ball back, such was the loose nature of this contest. As the game entered the final 10 minutes, neither team managed to control the ball and counter-attack after counter-attack was launched.
Again, it was the Sharks that came through a scrappy period of play as the big winners. Meyer Bosman latching onto the final pass to score what many believed was the clincher. At 27-13, the game was all but over.
But the Lions scored in the 75th minute through reserve prop Ruan Dreyer, and Butch James’s conversion set up a frantic finish. The Sharks were placed under pressure by a desperate Lions side, and it took a big tackle by Marcell Coetzee to win the ball back.
A kickable penalty was turned down by Sharks captain Keegan Daniel as the hosts set up a lineout deep in Lions territory. And to the delight of the Kings Park faithful, the Sharks finished the second half as they had the first, with a rare blend of power and precision.
On this occasion, Du Plessis found his jumper to set up the maul, and the forwards bulldozed their way over the line. Jacques Botes emerged from a pile of bodies and the referee awarded what was the bonus-point try.
While the Sharks may have finished this game strongly and 12 points ahead of the opposition, they will know that there is much to do before they meet the Reds next week. The game against the Lions was in the balance until the final minutes, and the Sharks will need to address their inconsistencies at the breakdown and lineout if they hope to challenge the better teams.